Caterer receives hefty fine in allergen mock trial
A caterer was fined tens of thousands of pounds after admitting to flouting allergen laws, as part of a mock trial.
The event was held to enhance food businesses’ knowledge of their legal obligations on allergens, and an industry expert is calling on caterers to ‘sit up and take notice’.
Jon Shayler, chief operating officer at Erudus, which is the leading provider of food product data to the foodservice industry and supported the event, said: “Failure to get it right can have catastrophic results.
“In addition to placing people’s lives at risk, caterers risk hefty fines and potentially irreparable damage to their reputation.
“As demonstrated in the mock trial, adhering to allergen law goes far beyond having access to the data. There was a breakdown in processes and procedures, which led to mis-information and mistakes, concluding with two young boys being served meals that contained ingredients they are allergic to.
“To make matters worse, the family advised of the allergies at the time of booking.
“This type of incident happens on a regular basis, and I hope this event sends a clear message to caterers that they need to sit up and take notice.”
In the mock trial, the restaurant and the director pleaded guilty to five charges including misleading consumers and selling unsafe food.
Evidence included failures to properly act on a product recall and to update front of house about a change in the nut allergy status of a meal.
One boy had an allergy to cashew nuts and was served a meal containing the ingredient. It was discovered by another family member before he tasted it. His brother was allergic to peas and gluten and ate a meal consisting of both, before falling ill.
Evidence presented to the jurors showed:
- Layout of the kitchen didn’t provide effective allergen segregation
- Utensil Policy not properly implemented or abided to by employees
- Cleaning schedule only 90 per cent complete over a three-month period
- One employee had overstated her qualifications that hadn’t been checked
- Food Allergy awareness, risk assessment, and labelling policy was in place
- An inaccurate meals allergen risk assessment
The company, which owned five restaurants, was fined £12,000, plus £24,000 to contribute to costs of the proceeding, and the director was fined £2,880.
The mock trial was hosted by training consultancy Food Allergy Aware in partnership with law firm Blake Morgan.
Caroline Benjamin, founder and consultant of Food Allergy Aware, said: “Despite a number of high-profile legal cases involving food outlets and allergens in the last 12 months, it’s not surprising to see bad practise still exists across the UK with allergen tables created as a tick box exercise with very little care taken to ensure their accuracy.
“I hope this event helps to promote potentially critical issues facing the hospitality industry, where there is a possible incident just waiting to happen.”