Food customers 'given too little information on allergens that could kill'
Food businesses are giving customers an unacceptably low level of information about potentially deadly allergens, health chiefs have warned.
A survey of 50 cafes, hotels, pubs, restaurants and takeaways found just under a third did not give customers any written advice about risks from 14 substances such as nuts, shellfish and eggs.
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) called on businesses to take their legal responsibilities seriously, particularly where a consumer's health and life is at stake.
Dr Pamela Byrne, the agency's chief executive, said the results were very worrying and indicated either a lack of awareness or willingness among food firms to prioritise safety two years after rules were introduced.
"Allergic reactions to food make people ill and in particular situations can be fatal," she said.
"Whether consumers are eating out, getting takeaways or having food delivered to their home or workplace, food businesses have a legal obligation to provide accurate food allergen information in writing.
"The level of non-compliance we have identified through this audit is a cause for major concern. Food businesses must take action immediately to protect public health and to comply with the law."
The sample survey found only a quarter of the food businesses that had written advice on allergens actually provided accurate information.
In 26 of the firms that were audited, a foodstuff had been left out or the allergen content of the food had been incorrectly recorded.
The FSAI said almost nine out of 10 of the firms had to make some changes to guidance for customers and only six businesses were fully compliant.
It also said businesses reported not knowing that information must be provided or being confused or unaware about what information they should provide.
The agency said the findings were so serious that it was launching an eight week national awareness blitz to warn companies of their legal requirements as th ree in every 100 people in Ireland have a food allergy.
Anyone serving or selling food has to list information on 14 allergens including c ereals containing gluten; c rustaceans, e ggs, f ish, p eanuts, s oybeans, m ilk, n uts including eight specific types, c elery, m ustard, s esame seeds, s ulphur dioxide and sulphites above certain concentrations, l upin and m olluscs.
They are also obliged to include information on products derived from any of the listed foods.
Dr Byrne warned food businesses that environmental health officers across the country will be contacting them with advice on their legal obligations.
"The Health Service Executive will take enforcement action, when it is deemed appropriate or necessary," the FSAI chief added.