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Law calls for 'soup menus'

February 06 2015
Yum... but what's in it? © Jason Jacobs Yum... but what's in it? © Jason Jacobs
A new EU directive forces makers to reveal allergy-triggering ingredients

”Lobster, sir or madam?” It’s unlikely to be something you’ll be offered at a soup kitchen. But due to a new EU directive forcing makers to list ingredients to which people are commonly allergic, if it's on the menu, you should know all about it.

The new allergy labelling legislation, which came into force in December 2014, states that organisations who are registered as a food business – including soup kitchens or runs – must make sure their customers know about ingredients that they might be allergic to such as nuts and eggs and, of course, shellfish.

Other ingredients that must be specified by a label, menu or sign include wheat, milk and oats.

Failure to comply with the regulations could result in a fine of up to £5,000, though the actual amount will be decided by magistrates in each case, according to the Food Standards Agency.

For soup run organisers, it’s proving an unwanted headache. “We’re volunteers. We provide food free of charge – it’s like giving sandwiches to our friends,” said Bob Bailey, from Agape, whose members travel from Woking to London every week to hold a soup run along Embankment.

“Must every sandwich that’s given out have a label on it saying what the contents are? It’s absolutely ridiculous… I have a boxful marked ‘cheese’, one ‘egg’, one ‘ham’, one ‘tuna’ – I don’t intend to do any more, frankly.”

For Kate Mooney, senior volunteer at Corunna’s Cadogan Street soup run in Glasgow, there are other pressing concerns, such as trying to get the council to fix a long-abandoned street light. But she knows about the regulations. “It’s something that I’m aware of – for example, at church we have to say what’s in everything. But it’s not something we’ve done at the soup kitchen."

“These regulations are about giving consumers more information and making it easier for those with food allergies to understand what they are eating,” said Emma Brady, spokesperson for Birmingham City Council. “We are currently working with all businesses to ensure compliance.”

According to the FSA, around 5,000 people go to hospital and 10 die because of food allergies every year, on average.

What’s in a chicken korma?

The FSA suggests you should list milk (in the yoghurt), sesame and mustard (in the garam masala), almonds and cooking oil (as this can contain a blend of several ingredients, including peanuts, nuts and soya).