The number of people living with allergies is rising year on year. Allergic reactions to food are often mild, but in some cases can cause serious illness and be life-threatening to someone with a food allergy.
Food businesses have a legal obligation to ensure that any food they produce or prepare is safe for their customers to eat. By law they must be able to provide information to customers when asked about allergens in foods. The consequences of not providing accurate and clear allergen information to your customers could be serious.
From 1 October 2021, there are also new rules for food businesses for labelling foods where packaged onsite before they are ordered or selected by the customer.
What causes a food allergy?
Food allergies happen when the body's immune system reacts to certain types of food as if it is not safe. This results in a number of chemicals being released which cause the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
Common symptoms of a food allergy can range from an itchiness of the skin, swelling of the face and eyes, vomiting and in the more serious cases, a person can have a more severe allergic reaction, anaphylaxis which can cause difficulties in swallowing and breathing
For more information on food allergy, visit the NHS website.
What does the law say about food allergens?
Food businesses have a legal responsibility to manage food allergens, provide correct allergen information to their customers and follow food labelling rules as set out in food law EU Regulation 1169/2011 on the provision of information for consumers (FIC) and the Food Information Regulations 2014.
It is an offence for a food business to provide inaccurate or incomplete information about allergenic ingredients and those businesses who regularly fail to provide this information can face legal action.
What are the food allergens recognised in law?
It is important to know if any of the 14 allergens declared by law are used as an ingredient, additive, processing aid or any other substance present in the food you provide.
It is essential to be aware that customers may be allergic or have intolerance to other food ingredients, but only the 14 allergens listed below are required to be declared as allergens by law:
|Cereals containing gluten||wheat, rye, spelt, barley, oats and kamut|
|Crustaceans||lobsters, crabs, shrimps and prawns|
|Lupin||consumed and used as flour|
|Milk and milk products||including lactose|
|Molluscs||mussels, oysters, cockles, scallops. octopus and squid|
|Nuts||almonds, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, pecans, macadamias, walnuts and cashews|
|Peanuts||also know as groundnuts|
|Soya||often found in edamame beans, miso paste, soya flour, tofu and in desserts including ice cream and sauces|
|Sulphur dioxide (sometimes know as sulphites)||an ingredient often used in dried fruit and can be found in some wine, beer and soft drinks|
How does a food business comply with these requirements?
- Identify the allergens present in the food they prepare and sell, always checking labels and information provided by suppliers for all ingredients
- Record ingredients information on paper records or electronically, such as a chart recipe book or ingredients information record, or an up-to-date allergen file and make accessible to staff responsible to give allergen advice
- Review this information regularly to account for new dishes and for any changes in ingredients
- Manage allergen risks on their premises. Ensure measures are taken to prevent cross contamination, use clear and accurate menu descriptions and train all staff in allergy awareness
- Provide customers with accurate allergen information, either verbally or in writing. Display a notice advising customers with allergies to tell you about their allergies.
Allergen guidance and resources to help with these tasks are available on the Food Standards Agency website.
A webinar delivered by the 'Joint Knowledge Transfer Framework' on allergen risk assessment is available to enhance knowledge of the requirement to manage allergen risks.
What allergen training do I need to provide for staff?
All staff should be given regular training, instruction, and supervision to manage allergens effectively. Staff must:
- know what to do when asked to provide allergen information and can accurately deal with allergen information requests
- know of the risks and all the measures to prevent allergen cross contamination during preparation and handling of food
The Food Standards Agency provides food allergy online training covering food allergies and allergen information rules. When completed, certificates can be downloaded and recorded in staff training records.
What food allergen information must be available and provided to customers?
While allergen information is always required to be declared by a food business, the way in which it must be communicated to customers differs between pre-packed and non pre-packed foods.
Non pre-packed (loose) foods include foods sold loose in retail outlets, such as a delicatessen or bakery, as well as meals served in a restaurant or from a takeaway.
Allergen information must be available and easily accessible by a customer at the place they are making their food choice. It can be provided in written form, verbally or a combination of both. It is important to signpost customers to where they can obtain this allergen information and to have a two-way conversation with your customer about allergens.
Pre-packed food means any food placed into packaging before being offered for sale.
Packaging may enclose the food completely or only partially provided that the food contents cannot be altered without opening or changing the packaging and is ready for sale. The food must have an ingredient list on display on the packaging and all of the 14 major allergens must be emphasised on the ingredients list each time they are present.
Pre-packed for direct sale foods include those which are packed on the same premises from which they are sold. This applies to food provided by takeaways, restaurants, sandwich shops and cafes. Common food examples include salads, pies and sandwiches made and sold from premises where they are made.
Until 1 October 2021, allergen information can be provided in the same way for both non pre-packed foods and pre-packed food for direct sale.
The following information provides guidance on the legal requirements when declaring and labelling allergens:
- Food Standards Agency: allergen guidance for food businesses
- Food Standards Agency: allergen labelling for food manufacturers
- Allergy UK: information and advice for restaurants and caterers
Allergen labelling changes for pre-packed for direct sale foods (PPDS)
Food businesses need to check if their products require PPDS allergen labelling and what they need to do to comply with new rules.
From 1 October 2021, the law on food allergen labelling, referred to as Natasha's law, will be changing to provide greater protection for the consumer. Those businesses that produce PPDS will be required to label food with the name of the food and provide a full list of ingredients emphasising the presence of allergen ingredients.
The change in the law was brought in following the death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse who died from suffering an allergic reaction from a baguette containing sesame that she purchased, and which did not legally require allergen labelling at this time
Find out more about what the changes mean for your food business and guidance on the new requirements: