Home >The Facilities Event Live: Panel debate – What does the Pret allergy scandal mean for workplace catering?

The Facilities Event Live: Panel debate – What does the Pret allergy scandal mean for workplace catering?

11 April 2019

Today (11th April) The Facilities Event hosted a topical panel debate looking at the allergy crisis which engulfed the chain Pret and what it means for catering in the workplace.

Delegates heard how three allergen-related deaths appeared in the news last autumn, bringing the topic of labelling to the forefront of caterers and FMs’ minds. But Pret didn’t break any laws in the way it displayed its allergen information.

The panel of industry experts – Kate Law, nutritionist and founder, the Food Boss; Paul Bates from Talkington Bates; Julian Fris,founder of Neller Davies; and Ben McEwen, director at Lexington – were asked what impact the deaths have had on contract caterers and on their clients.

Kate Law said that it has sparked fear in contract caterers from allergic employees but also fear in terms of 'where do we stand with risk and what do we say, and where are we liable?'. "From that perspective I've had a lot more enquiries around 'what is gluten-free' for example, labelling and what do we say to the customer?'."

One of the problems said Julian Fris is that if you are making food in a central production unit you can keep to a tight specification and rigorous auditing, but if you're making a product on the site where it is being consumed there's not that high level of probity to ensure they're meeting standards. 

Dealing with allergens moving forward, Paul Bates said that the education of his staff is important. "Prior to any service time we have a debrief so the whole team within the catering department comes out to the counter with the head chef and catering manager and every item is discussed, how it was cooked, what's been put into that dish, where the allergens sit if any."

Communicating with consumers is also key. As younger consumers want to receive information in different ways - often digitally rather than verbally, Ben McEwen said that they've started working with a high street food business that uses the latest technology to allow customers to personalise their food such as increasing your protein content or reducing the fat. 

"We've adopted that technology and we're working to put apps into our locations so customers can put their own information in and personalise their dining experience," he said. "Part of that is putting in allergen information so it will only show you items which are suitable for your diet. It takes away the fact-finding from the customer and puts the information in their hands."