While there are numerous arguments for avoiding mass processed food served by chains, it’s hard to deny the convenience and speed of a well established fast food system. I recently took my daughter to a Burger King in Belfast as a treat for her birthday along with several of her friends and families. I also had a look at the allergen options on the menu prior to visiting and was pleasantly surprised to find a number of items are gluten free.
Responsibly, their website provides a nutritional break down and allergen information for all of their dishes. Click here for the list as of January 2016.
Having satisfied myself there were sufficient items available to make a meal prior to visiting, we planned our trip. These included fries (chips) of all sizes, fizzy drinks, patties (burger meats), vegetables and sauces.
Just to be on the safe side (as always), we enquired with the lady at the checkout if the items shown as gluten free were as advertised. She said she wasn’t sure but checked with the manager standing behind her who explained that yes they were.
The items in question were a portion of fries and an Angus patty. This is were the dilemma begins.
Behind the lady at the checkout, the manager was loading fries into the cardboard cartons for serving. Onion rings, i.e. a battered product were being fried in the same frier. The Angus patty is only served as part of the Angus burger, including the bread bap. So clearly, these items are not gluten free, or are they?
The items in question are gluten free at the point of production and potentially in delivery and potentially in storage, but they are not gluten free at the point of serving which raises the question, can they be described as gluten free?
A further look into the Burger King allergen sheet raises a few other queries too. Recently I was asked if tea and coffee are gluten free which I personally found somewhat incredulous. There is no reason in the world to think that a gluten containing grain would be in tea or coffee but according to the Burger King allergen sheet, cappuccinos, smoothies and milkshakes may be cross contaminated.
The fact they show cross contamination also means they understand the potential for cross over of contaminates but the question remains, is this during production or at the point of service? Either way I feel it’s misleading us the consumers but here’s what the Food Standards Agency says on their website regarding labelling:
Consumers should be able to be confident with their choice of foods and be able to buy according to their particular requirements, be it for diet and health, personal taste and preferences, or cost. They want to be able to make comparisons with similar products, knowing the information on the label is correct.
They have a right to expect that the food bought matches the description given on the label and that they get what they pay for.
– See more at: https://www.food.gov.uk/northern-ireland/ull#toc-1
From the Food Standards Agency Guidance Notes for Food Business Operators on Food Safety:
Labelling, advertising and presentation of food must not mislead consumers.
And finally from the European regulations on the Provision of Food Information to Consumers:
In order to achieve a high level of health protection for consumers and to guarantee their right to information, it should be ensured that consumers are appropriately informed as regards the food they consume.
So ultimately, the allergen information provided must be relevant to the food consumed by the consumer, which puts the onus on the venue to provide information accurate at the point of serving. In this case I don’t feel Burger King are providing that information accurately. By giving their staff an inaccurate allergen sheet to refer to they are passing on the false information as part of their staff training. It also highlights the staffs lack of understanding of the information being passed on to the consumer, defining a second serious problem in the delivery of safe food.
So where do I go from here as a consumer? According to the Food Standards Agency website I can report a food hygiene problem to the enforcement officer based in the council area that the food outlet is based in, in this case Castlereagh (near Belfast but part of the Lisburn & Castlereagh Council). If it is a food labelling problem I can report it to trading standards. In this case I believe it is both but personally I don’t imagine the local Burger King has any control over the labelling of the foods it is selling so this is probably a case for their head office.
As a “cookie cutter” type of business, all working from the same supply chain I also have to assume this is a nationwide issue, across both UK and Ireland and potentially worldwide although ingredients and dishes available vary between territories. For now I am referring it to the environmental health officer for Castlereagh to get their opinion where the fault lies and the best course of action.
Have you had a good or bad experience in Burger King? Comment below and let us know where it was.
Food Regulation Resources:
Food Standards Agency NI
Food Safety Authority of Ireland
European Food Regulations
European Food Legislation
European Food Allergen Labelling Regulations (Oct 2011, enforced from Dec 2014)