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Restaurants can now help their customers make healthier choices through MenuCal

By Valerie Edwards

Restaurants and caterers can now manage allergen information and calculate calories for the food they serve by using MenuCal.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) in NI has just launched its free business tool, MenuCal, designed to help food businesses provide information to their customers about the 14 main allergen ingredients.

With the information that MenuCal provides, consumers can improve their diets by making healthier choices.

Businesses are required by law to tell their customers if the 14 allergens are in the food they serve. The allergens range from ingredients such as peanuts and milk, to less widely recognised mustard and lupin seeds, which are often used in flour.

This tool will mean businesses can be assured that the information they provide to customers is correct and consumers can feel more confident when asking about allergenic ingredients when eating out.

MenuCal can also calculate the energy values (kilojoules and kilocalories) of the food that businesses serve.

Businesses that use MenuCal have the potential to increase their profitability by making smarter choices about the food they serve, tailoring their portion sizes to reduce the food’s energy value or changing the ingredients to give a healthier option.

Restaurants could redesign their menus as business becomes more health conscious to reflect calories in the food they serve. This calorie information could be used on restaurant menus so customers are more informed for those who fear eating out because they don’t know this information.

The restaurant industry will be able to input their ingredients – down to the specific brands – and find out the exact calorie count of their meals. From this, customers will be able to determine which foods are healthy and unhealthy and can become more aware of their daily intake.

Julie McKinstry-Harvey, Senior Dietary Health Advisor at the Food Standards Agency, commented on yesterday’s launch: “We have developed MenuCal to support NI food businesses to be compliant with current legislation on allergens, and also help them influence consumers on making smarter, healthier choices when it comes to eating out or buying food to take away.”

The FSA developed MenuCal using insights from a 2012 pilot scheme, CalorieWise, that revealed businesses needed technical support to analyse recipes quickly and accurately.

Ms McKinstry-Harvey added: “It’s a complete package, giving both businesses and consumers confidence in the accuracy of allergen information and the calorie content of food.

“All you have to do is create your own private profile on the MenuCal tool, to add your recipes and store cupboard ingredients. This can be done using a computer, tablet or even a smartphone, so it is easy to update recipe or ingredient changes.”

The Better Choice, Better Business conference was jointly hosted by the FSA and the Department of Health to update the food industry on the revised outcomes for A Fitter Future for All, the Government’s strategy for preventing and addressing the issues of overweight and obesity in Northern Ireland.

More than 150 representatives from the NI food industry, environmental health community and public health professionals attended the event, which was the first of its kind in Northern Ireland.

The FSA will roll out a programme of engagement with Environmental Health Officers to provide training and encourage local, small to medium-sized businesses to use MenuCal.

For more information and to sign up for free visit  MenuCal.

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