Would you like gluten free?

Hands up if you’ve got a food allergy 🙋🏻‍♀️ Do you struggle eating out because of unclear information or a lack of knowledge? I’d love to hear your experiences! Especially the good ones, let’s shout out the food businesses who actually know what’s in the food they serve.

I’m also a huge believer in education and if you query something, they’re unsure, you explain allergies and they go away and find out for next time or improve allergen info. So anyway, napping toddler in the van, biblical rain, a morning at a play centre for a 3 year old’s birthday and one insanely busy week at work… it’s lunchtime and we’re ravenous. We weren’t far from Southport so decided to check out the new @southportmarket. I’d heard very good things. The market hall is lovely, has all the vibes of @mackiemayor and I felt like a kid in a sweet shop rushing through the doors out the rain. I was armed with some recommendations from @thecherryblue_ and ready to order a feast for our van picnic. Did I mention the sleep deprivation? Trying to give you all the context because 3 stalls-in and getting “no sorry” because of my allergies and I very nearly cried. The hanger was real!

So what did we get?

Pepperoni pizza from @600degrees.uk.

Halloumi fries with tzatziki and Chicken yeeros from @pitamugreekstreetfood.

Portuguese tarts from @kingst_bakery

The food I did manage to purchase was absolutely spot on and I would definitely recommend but to get to that point took much longer and more stress than was really acceptable.

Now when asking about allergies, what’s totally acceptable (although still disappointing) is being told you can’t eat anything because they know their ingredients and you’re allergic to them. So I was gutted not to try any @downandoot but they use sesame oil in the fryers so that ruled out everything. Staff were really nice about it and knowledgeable about ingredients. I’ve been told their food is delish so definitely try if you visit! A few stalls had a similar response (queue mild panic that I literally wouldn’t be eating anything) but when people have the knowledge it’s reassuring and makes the disappointment easier. What I really struggle with is when you ask about allergies and they give you the blank look like somehow you should know their ingredients and were rude to ask in the first place. What’s most common is they’re unsure because things have been bought in and the label doesn’t say or they’re bought in and there’s no label. Or the menu is changeable and they don’t update info each time or the ultimate sin – they don’t see that as food vendors that they should even have the detailed allergen info. I can hear you saying – What surely not these days?! – but I can confirm that so many times no-one in the room knows the ingredients, an allergen folder doesn’t exist and absolutely no effort is made to find the information. The answer is simply – sorry we can’t serve you.

So whilst I was extremely happy to be able to get some food from 3 stalls, it was so disappointing to have more than 5 stalls not actually know their ingredients well enough to categorically rule things in or out. I explained my soya allergy to one stall who said – would you like gluten free? You wouldn’t believe how many times I get asked this – the fact that soya beans (and in bread as soya flour) and gluten (which I’m sure you know is found in cereals such as wheat) are 2 totally different things should be something that staff working in food serving environments should know. Not just because it is taught the basic food hygiene training but because if what you’re serving could potentially have life threatening consequences for a consumer with allergies – really you should know the basics of the 14 food allergens. Anyway I could talk on this subject all day and I’m sure there’ll be a few more posts to come. But here’s my piece of advice if you serve or make food as a job – when someone with allergies asks for information and you don’t have the answers already in your head or to hand. Simply say – I’m not 100% sure but I will go and find out. Then go and ask your manager or find the allergen folder and take note so that next time you can answer more confidently. Ultimately if you know this information, someone with allergies is likely to be a repeat customer!

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