High street food and coffee chains provide wrong allergy advice


Five of the biggest high street restaurants and coffee shop chains gave out false or misleading information on potentially deadly allergens to BBC undercover reporters.

The BBC Watchdog team visited 30 restaurant and coffee chains, acting as ordinary customers with allergies. They asked whether specific dishes contained any of the 14 major allergens, such as celery and nuts. Five of these 30, Pizza Hut, Nando’s, Frankie and Benny’s, and the coffee shops Costa and Starbucks, have been exposed as giving out potentially dangerous and incorrect information.

The outlets in question haven’t listed any of the 14 major allergens on their menus, which leaves the customers to seek information from the staff. Any incorrect or unclear advice can potentially threaten one’s life or well-being.

Triangle Picture Credit: Wikilmages on Pixabay; Text and sign graphic: Debora Kirilova;

This is what each chain provided as information:

Pizza Hut: At one of the restaurants the server was unable to provide an answer on whether the ‘mac and cheese’ and the pepperoni pizza have mustard in them. However, on the companies online platform, it was listed that the ingredient is contained in both of the dishes. Even though the chain was in the possession of an allergy book, it didn’t deliver the correct information since it was “unclear” for both the staff and the reporter.

Nando’s: When asked whether the burger contains mustard, the waiter ‘assumed’ it didn’t, without double-checking with the allergen book. It turned out it actually contained the ingredient.

Frankie and Benny’s: At one of the restaurants, the reporter was handed an agreement to sign, acknowledging that the restaurant couldn’t guarantee allergens’ free dishes when the customers initially ask the staff for allergy concerning information. According to the BBC report, this type of action from the restaurant makes the customers feel uncomfortable.

Coffee shops:
Costa: At one of its coffee shops, they thoroughly checked the allergy book on the reporter’s order of mince pie. However, they told Mr Lewis it contained soya milk even though they had the knowledge it that in actual fact it was a regular one.

Starbucks: Staff have assured the BBC’s employee on his lemon loaf cake, that it doesn’t contain nuts, but still warned him there is a risk of a small amount of nut-contamination.

The investigation was conducted in only one branch of each food and coffee chains, which means its results couldn’t apply to every one of their outlets. However, after the report, each of the companies provided further assurance that the raised issues would be handled, since misleading information on such matter is of great importance.

List of the 14 major food allergens:

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Allergy awareness has been brought to the forefront after the 15 years old, Natasha Ednan-Laperouse collapsed on a flight from London to Nice in 2015 because of an allergic reaction to a baguette bought from Pret a Manger. The lack of stickers concerning allergen advice on the wrapper cost the young girl’s life and according to The Guardian nine more people had similar allergy reaction because of Pret a Manger’s products, a year prior to this fatal incident.

This year, the “Natasha’s law” was backed up by Michael Gove – Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who confirmed that the legislation could be in place by the summer of 2019.

Feature Image: Google image labelled for reuse

Words: Debora Kirilova | Subbing: Ruby Naldrett

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