BBC Watchdog

High street restaurants ignore law on allergies, reveals Watchdog Live

They give out "dangerous" allergy advice

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BBC Watchdog Live has uncovered the disturbing news that high street restaurants and coffee chains are giving out incorrect allergy advice to its customers.

In a detailed investigation carried out by the BBC’s flagship consumer show, undercover journalists were served food containing nuts, mustard or celery – despite telling staff they were allergic to those ingredients.

This could lead to an allergy sufferer becoming seriously ill, or even dying.

Watchdog team
The Watchdog team Matt Allwright, Nikki Fox and Steph McGovern (Credit: BBC)

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Using secret filming and posing as customers, reporters visited branches of Frankie and Benny’s, Pizza Hut, Nandos, Pizza Express, Starbucks and Costa.

The report follows several deaths in the past few years, where customers have tragically died after being given the wrong information about what they were eating.

Natasha Ednan-Laperouse
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Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, 15, died after eating a baguette from Pret a Manger, which was incorrectly labelled.

She was allergic to sesame seeds, but they were NOT listed in the ingredients.

Teenager Shahida Shahid died from brain damage in 2015 after being served a chicken burger marinated in buttermilk – despite telling restaurant staff about her dairy allergy.

Nikki Fox wheelchair
Nikki Fox investigates on behalf of consumers (Credit: BBC)

By law cafés, restaurants and takeaways should give customers clear information about which dishes contain allergens.

However, none of the outlets visited had allergens listed on menus or labels – and staff were also unable to give clear information.

In fact, in some worrying occasions, waiters were guessing the ingredients.

This dangerously misleading conduct, found in 5 out of 30 chains visited, could result in death.

The BBC even reports that, shockingly, some restaurant chains now ask customers with allergies to sign a document that one staff member said is to “save our back”.

watchdog live
Watchdog Live uncovers shocking conduct in restaurants and cafés (Credit: BBC)

Pizza Express was found to be the only chain to give accurate advice in each of the five branches visited.

Tony Lewis, Head of Policy at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, told the BBC show: “Five is a significant number and if you scale it up nationally, it becomes a very, very large number indeed.

“And that’s worrying, that there’s businesses out there that will be asked by people with allergies for information, and they’re not being given the right information or they’re being misled in some instances.

“That’s really scary and that’s what bothers me a lot.”

Steph McGovern Watchdog
Steph McGovern co-hosts Watchdog (Credit: BBC)

Meanwhile, Watchdog Live presenter Steph McGovern, said: “Five out of 30 places got it wrong which, for some of the biggest names in the business, just isn’t good enough.

“They’re relying on staff getting it right every time, and when they don’t, the results can be fatal.

“But there’s a simple solution that would save lives – printing allergy information on labels and menus.”

Each of the chains investigated has admitted there have been problems and changes have been made to put things right.

Catch Watchdog Live on BBC iPlayer if you missed the broadcast.

Do you think restaurants and cafés should be taking allergies more seriously? Leave us a comment on our Facebook page @EntertainmentDailyFix and let us know what you think!