[dropcap font=”arial”]”I[/dropcap] am very pleased with the progress that has been made. Ten years ago I would have had to have a salad in Pizza Hut, but now I can have a gluten free pizza.” This is the thoughts of Samuel Klein, a young man in his early twenties from Crewe, who in addition to being lactose intolerant, has suffered from coeliac disease since he was born. Information on ingredients is pivotal for him as his diseases means he must avoid gluten.
December 2014 saw the enforcing of an EU law that requires caterers and restaurant owners to display information on allergens in their food, such as eggs, milk and gluten. Cafes’ and wine bars can no longer state on menus they don’t know what allergens are present and face up to £5000 fines for any breaches of the rules. The regulations were greeted with hostility by celebrity chefs including, Albert Roux and Thomasina Miers. The chefs warned of the imposition to “creativity and innovation” as well as the potential cost in a letter organised by Business for Britain and sent to The Daily Telegraph in March. Few are in agreement though and many of the issues remain scrambled.
The great thing about this new law is that I don’t feel I’m being awkward any more when I ask a question. I no longer feel like a nuisance.
Mr Klein is one out of every hundred people in the UK to suffer from coeliac disease and as a result he has had difficulty dining out in the past. The laws have had mixed effects he said, “In the past I went to a place I knew and ordered what I was confident didn’t have gluten. The great thing about this new law is that I don’t feel I’m being awkward any more when I ask a question. I no longer feel like a nuisance.” Despite this he still feels restricted in choices available to him but is quick to acknowledge the progress and feels for him the laws go “as far as they can” because it does not make business sense to cater specifically for coeliacs.
Coeliac UK is the oldest and largest coeliac disease charity in the world. The Food Policy Lead of the organisation is Kathryn Miller. She has campaigned for the changes in the law for a “long time” and has welcomed the positive impact they have, not just to sufferers but to businesses. “Many high street names have happily taken up the challenge with great success,” she says.
Upon entering The Dolphin the reserved signs on many of the tables point to a clientele concerned with eating as much as the various pumps of cask ale at the bar. Jemma McGhee is a 23 year old employee originally from Suffolk who has made Canterbury her home after graduating there. She rejects the premise that food information regulations could potentially be bad for business, “I feel it’s made it easier to give customers the best service we can” she says.
The EU regulations state that it must be clear for a customer to understand what ingredients are present in foods on the menu. “We have an allergen chart detailing all the possible items people might be allergic too, that we can refer to, rather than pestering the chef during busy service times” she says.
Back in The Dolphin Ms McGhee is difficult to keep pace with as she weaves left and right down a corridor as the smell gets stronger and stronger. At the end of the tunnel there is a chef charged to an even greater speed. Gareth Coulthard is the head chef here and is double checking the evenings schedule in detail. The perceived wisdom is that if anyone is to be hindered by these rules it is this man. “I’m fully aware of the sometimes dangerous consequences of the presence of allergens, and so I find having a central file of all ingredients to be a useful tool”, he says with a hint of resentment. The idea of being dictated to on a subject he is already aware begins to fill the air.
Of course it is some time ago since he was forced to evaluate everything in his kitchen so a third party supplier may be the cause for frustration. “We have had to ask our suppliers for lists of ingredients, but we have found that they have all complied with the legislation and have been most helpful with their assistance.” Another seemingly smooth transition in the process it was claimed would cause such destruction. The fact it is the law and must be complied with could account for this of course.