Tokyo: Japanese authorities have set up a panel of experts to study how to inform restaurant customers about allergy-causing ingredients in prepared food - a category not subject to existing labelling regulations.
While this is good news for those with allergies, sceptics question how thoroughly labelling rules can be enforced at establishments with extensive menus that change constantly.
Children with allergies currently cannot go to fast food restaurants with friends or participate in school trips that involve food, a representative of an advocacy group for food allergy patients said at the Consumer Affairs Agency`s first meeting on April 21.
"Children with food allergies and their parents long to be able to eat out," the representative told the panel, which plans to compile an interim report by the end of the year.
Prepackaged processed foods have been subject to allergy labelling since April 2001.
The government requires warnings for the presence of seven ingredients including eggs, milk and wheat.
It also recommends labelling for 20 other allergy-causing ingredients.
The agency`s panel is targeting restaurant dishes and unpackaged prepared foods for takeout or delivery for new labelling regulations in place of allergy warnings encouraged on a voluntary basis.
These foods have not been covered by the labelling regimes to avoid placing too big a burden on businesses which cook to order and use menus and ingredients that can change daily.
Another factor is that customers can ask at the restaurant what ingredients are used.
According to the education ministry, about 450,000 pupils and students at public primary and secondary schools in Japan have food allergies.
While the government has been relatively slow in addressing allergy labelling for restaurants, businesses such as family restaurants and industry bodies have been studying appropriate labelling and working on menus palatable for allergy sufferers.