When the chef/owner of a restaurant in Shropshire wrote on Facebook that she had ‘spiked’ a vegan guest, the reaction was strong. Laura Goodman wrote two posts on Saturday 30th December saying: “Pious, judgemental vegan (who I spent all day cooking for) has gone to bed, still believing she’s a vegan”, and: “Spiked a vegan a few hours ago.”
The posts triggered a frenzy on social media, with some even calling for the chef to be charged with assault. Fiona Sinclair is director of leading food safety consultancy STS; she takes a look at this story from the food safety legislation perspective.
“It’s my understanding that Shropshire Council is investigating this incident. Rather than a food safety problem i.e. something in food that is capable of causing harm or injury, this appears to be, potentially, more of a food standards issue.
“Under Section 14 of The Food Safety Act 1990 it is an offence to sell, to the prejudice of the purchaser, any food which is not of the nature demanded by the purchaser. This means that a customer is served something different from what they had ordered e.g. if a customer ordered vegan pizza and the restaurant used non vegan cheese. Although we do not yet know what happened in this case, what food was served or what the chef meant by ‘spiked’, using a non vegan ingredient in a vegan dish could potentially be considered under this offense.
“Furthermore, under section 15 of the Act it also an offense to sell food that is falsely described or labelled, which is misleading as to the nature, substance or quality of the food, so this and other similar offences under food safety and trading standards legislation may be something that the council is looking into.
“If Shropshire Council decides there is enough evidence to bring charges against the chef and she is found guilty, these types of offenses can attract fines of £20,000.
“It is debatable as to whether the self confession style posts made by the chef owner would be sufficient, robust evidence on which to base a prosecution. Even if Shropshire Council were satisfied that there was sufficient evidence that an offence has been committed, any decision to consider formal action would depend on whether or not they consider it is in the public interest to do so.
“On one hand we could say that this was a naive, one off occurrence and the torrent of negative feedback the restaurant has received will be punishment enough – the chef and her husband have already backtracked on the claims in an attempt to do damage control, saying they were merely ‘flippant’ and she had written the comments after ‘having too much to drink’. They will surely regret their actions and the business will suffer from negative ratings, lack of trust and bad publicity.
“On the other hand the public place great trust in whoever is preparing their food and expect the fact that preparation happens behind closed doors to have no effect on the nature or quality of food that they receive. Should an example be made of a chef who appears to have exploited this trust in order to ensure that they take customer choices seriously? Regardless of a food handlers personal beliefs regarding food preferences, it’s important that they serve exactly what the customer has ordered. This would be the same whether they had ordered vegan, vegetarian, halal, kosher, nut free or any other allergen free food.”