Charity events complying with food allergen rules
When it comes to allergens and the allergen legislation within the UK, it’s imperative that the severity of its impact is fully understood, particularly by event organisers, including those in the charity sector. Mistakes just cannot happen as recent media coverage of a fatality emphasised in dramatic headlines. In particular, for charities, the severity of potential fines and criminal punishment could have far reaching effects.
As charity event organisers you, like the venues who host you, go above and beyond to ensure you accommodate the slightest need of every attendee, including their dietary requests. However, there is simply too much at stake for everyone - from the venue and organiser, through to the attendee eating the food - to not seriously assess the importance of such a request.
Severity of an attendee’s need
The first challenge is questions over the severity of an attendee’s need. Government figures suggest 1-2% of the population have a genuine physical allergy, whilst a significantly higher 10% of event attendees make dietary requests. Whilst I would never wish to detract from an individual’s event experience, there is a substantial difference between those who simply don’t like bread or peanuts and those with a life threatening gluten or nut allergy. The question is how do you distinguish between the two?
The answer stems back to the pre-event registration process. At the moment organisers, whether working in the charity sector or not, tend to simply ask if someone has a dietary requirement. But you should start to understand their status when it comes to each of the 14 allergens identified in the government legislation. Only after you have this information and level of understanding can and should you start to consider accommodating other requirements, such as whether they are vegan and vegetarian.
The risks to a venue, catering team and the charity can be substantial. Earlier in 2016 the Government removed a £20,000 upper limit on fines payable in situations where organisations have not adhered to the legislation.
In some cases, manslaughter charges can be imposed, potentially affecting trustees as well as management, and of course there is the wider impact of a fatality on a team’s emotions. However, there is still no immediate solution or guarantee organisers, venues and caterers are going to receive the information needed to cater properly for the requirements of guests, which presents a risk.
I foresee a rise in court cases, a rise in food providers falling short of the legislation and we may potentially reach a time where venues refuse to cater for certain individuals because the risk is simply too great.
Delivering safe events
Looking at your event practices now, reviewing how you gather and provide information is the ideal place to start and the venues you choose should be working hand in hand with you to make sure you deliver events that are safe for all your attendees. The nature of charity events can mean you are working with less focused volunteers or potentially don’t have full attendee details until they arrive on they day. This presents a risk that needs to be considered and where possible overcome.
Processes to meet the needs of the legislation should be considered for every part of an event, whether it’s a fundraising dinner or an educational conference. The networking nature of many events and the rising popularity of buffet and bowl food make catering for allergens even more challenging.
In scenarios where there is a table plan, such as a charity dinner, it is relatively easy to find those with special requirements. However, the same cannot be said for a fundraising showcase for 200 where attendees will visit the catering stations of their own accord. Those with specific requests don’t always come forward, they expect to be found, or more worryingly they assume because they provided some dietary details on a registration form that they are safe to eat everything.
When these situations arise, both you as organisers and the chefs are put under pressure to create a last minute dish based on a lack of information. Whilst the chefs may include allergen champions who are used to working under these pressures, these short term requests often limit what they can achieve in terms of taste and creativity, which can negatively impact hospitality feedback.
Allergens present one of the greatest current challenges for event organisers and venues alike, and without doubt in the charity sector. The only way one can overcome these challenges is by improving communication channels. It’s the conversations with the attendees themselves that matter, the conversations that provide the answers one needs in advance of an event to ensure every attendee receives creative and inspiring food suited to their specific needs – no matter how challenging these might be.
Truly bespoke experience
However every challenge brings opportunities and it’s important that the legislation shouldn’t be seen as nothing but a problem. Venues can work more closely than ever before with charity event organisers to offer a truly bespoke experience. In particular, venues and caterers should be able to educate on the severity of the legislation and what you can do to protect yourselves.
The provision of bespoke menus and dishes also creates a truly personalised experience for an attendee, making them feel special and looked after, reflecting well on you as an organiser. Suitably flexible and on the ball venues and caterers, as well as the charity event organisers, will benefit from the diversification of menus as chefs creatively explore and develop new options using fresh and seasonal ingredients, whether these are in response to the needs of individuals with allergens or, more simply, the increasing rise of attendees seeking healthier choices.
Ultimately, through effective communication, understanding of the legislation and a partnership approach one can deliver a positive event experience for all. The legislation enables suitably geared venues and outside caterers to understand and deliver on individual needs, whilst helping you make the most of your budget and deliver a significant return on investment – and keep everyone safe.