Provision of allergen information in restaurants
As of the end of October, people involved in food industry are still waiting for the drafts of New Food Labeling Law, including the transition period, to be completed. For the New Functional Labeling System, further amendments and new guidelines are to be published in response to public comments. As we will share the information with you in the next newsletter onwards, in this newsletter we will talk about food allergen labeling.
The Consumer Affairs Agency is holding several review sessions on the "Provision of Allergen Information in Restaurants". I think many of you are involved more or less in the processed food industry, and in Japan measures against allergen labeling for processed foods are currently positioned as a top priority issue. I hope this newsletter will lead you to think about allergen labeling, which is to be changed under the new Food Labeling Law.
Gap in the basic stance between restaurants and the processed food industry
At the 5th review session, all the information was digested and the basic stance on allergen labeling was provided. While some say that accurate and appropriate allergen information should be provided also in restaurants, others say that a careful review should be undertaken before making it mandatory. According to the report published, there is a major difference between the restaurant and the processed food industry when it comes to the procurement plan of food ingredients and the preventive measures taken against cross contamination. One of the main reasons for the difference is that the processed food industry applies the "production planning and control system" while the restaurant industry applies more like the "make-to-order production system".
Contents of allergen information and how to present the information
The report also suggests that the basic contents of allergen information are subject to items corresponding to specified ingredients (7 mandatory items and 20 recommended items), and that in the case where no measures are taken to prevent cross contamination, an appropriate warning must be provided. Discussions on the contents of information unique to restaurants are being put together at the review session; namely, being flexible to meet the needs of customers, restaurants provide the information on whether or not to allow to bring in food, along with the information on the hospitals and clinics available in local areas.
From the standpoint of people who have food allergies, it would be helpful that more information related to allergens is made available at the website of restaurants. In the meantime, providing an accurate information in accordance with changes in food menu available at restaurants will be a challenge. Although communicating each other (restaurants and customers) by telephone and other means beforehand should be important, how to improve the existing system to prevent troubles due to the lack of knowledge of employees as to food allergens and also how to provide an environment where people concerned could share necessary information remain as an issue to be discussed.
Information management and staff training
The allergen information must be provided on the assumption that it is appropriately managed－the management system consists of "Ingredients Control", "Flow Management" and "Staff Training". We believe that providing an accurate and verifiable information will be achieved through such a management system.
While, as an organization, the management is required to provide the basic training for front-line employees whose job separation rate is high and to communicate with supervisors and managers on technical matters, seeing the problem from the perspectives of both sides and seek solutions by, for example, providing sufficient information for individuals who develop different allergy symptoms and having them make decisions would also be required.
Key points at the working level in the future
Involving in the management and updating of allergen information posted on restaurant websites, we realize that search keywords and the number of access change depending on the volume of information provided. As the volume of information available on the website increases, so does the number of inquiries from customers. It is good to be prepared at the working level, for example, equipping staff members working in the restaurants the know-how to deal with customers, along with the provision of allergen information on the website.
This is not limited to allergen information but can also be applied to organic foods, and ingredients and recipes that require special attention for the reason of certain religion or belief. If you wish to sell more products to more people, we recommend that you take a look at the information of the review sessions held under the theme of "Provision of Allergen Information in Restaurants".