Allergen Awareness: Unveiling Challenges and Solutions in the Food Industry

In support of Allergy Awareness week, Serve Legal is seizing the opportunity to shed light on the latest developments in the allergen industry. In addition to sharing exclusive audit data from 2023 and 2024 year-to-date, we're unveiling insights from our recent auditor allergen survey conducted in April 2024.

The Challenge of QR Codes in Allergen Information Access

Technology has revolutionised the way we interact with the world, including how we access allergen information when dining out. QR codes have become a common sight in restaurants, pubs, and other eateries as a means to provide comprehensive allergen information to customers. However, our recent allergen audits highlighted how a significant portion of these QR codes fail to load or provide adequate information, leaving customers without the necessary assurance.

‘It makes me feel irritated; if they have no other alternative then I often feel unsafe enough to leave. It has happened on multiple occasions.’ (Auditor Survey, April 2024)

Over the past year, Serve Legal audits found that 46% of QR codes intended to provide allergen information were non-functional; most frequently poor Wi-Fi connectivity and poor internet connections were to blame. For consumers living with allergies, encountering malfunctioning QR codes poses more than just an inconvenience—it can jeopardise their safety.

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When QR codes fail, businesses often resort to alternative methods of providing allergen information, such as printed booklets or pamphlets. However, Serve Legal's data indicates that this backup plan frequently fails with 32% of cases seeing no further allergen information available to the customer. The consequence of this unreliable information spans beyond legal liabilities and reputation damage for businesses to effects on customers that can be anywhere from inconvenient to fatal. To address these risks, we believe that retailers must take proactive measures to enhance the reliability and accessibility of allergen information across multiple accessible formats, such as printed materials and prominently displayed posters, to cater to diverse customer needs.

Empowering Staff for Allergen Awareness

Central to ensuring allergen compliance is equipping staff with the knowledge and skills to address customer needs effectively. Serve Legal's survey revealed that only 27% of auditors felt confident in staff members' understanding of allergies without the support of online or printed material. It's imperative that staff possess thorough knowledge of allergens, adopt a proactive approach to assisting customers, and prioritise customer safety. The Owen’s Law Campaign highlights this as a key aspect of proposed policy development; with a hope that restaurants will be required by law to ask customers about their allergen requirements and converse confidently with customers about the safety of their food (source).

According to our survey, 74% of auditors prefer to be asked about dietary requirements and allergies either at or before being welcomed with their drinks order, while 24% prefer to be asked when ordering their food. When asking respondents with allergies directly, 73% felt more confident in venues where staff proactively address allergen concerns before they have the chance to raise them. It is vital for staff to be confident enough in their business’ allergen policies to initiate this conversation with a customer and offer support. These statistics highlight the importance of initiating the conversation about allergens early in the dining process to ensure that customer needs are addressed promptly and effectively.

As we observe Allergy Awareness Week, it's crucial to acknowledge the challenges and opportunities presented in ensuring allergen compliance within the food industry. The prevalence of malfunctioning QR codes underscores the need for proactive measures to enhance the reliability and accessibility of allergen information. For more information on the research we conduct or the audit service we offer, please visit our Services Page or get in touch via to speak with a member of our team.