It is estimated that 2 million people in the UK have been diagnosed with a food allergy.
The number of people living with allergies in the UK is rising by 5% per year with an increasing number of children developing an allergy.
Food allergies can be fatal. Food business operators have a legal responsibility to manage food allergens and provide the correct allergen information to their customers.
There are currently 14 food ingredients classed as an allergen that businesses must be aware of. These are:
- Cereals containing gluten, such as wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelt, kamut and their hybridised strains
- Peanuts (also called groundnuts)
- Nuts, such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios, macadamias and Queensland nuts
- Sesame seeds
- Crustaceans (includes crabs, lobsters, shrimps and prawns)
- Molluscs (includes mussels, cockles, oysters, scallops, squid and octopus)
- Milk and milk products (including lactose)
- Soy beans
- Mustard (including mustard powder and seeds)
- Sulphur dioxide and sulphites at levels above 10 mg/kg or 10 mg/litre expressed as SO2.
Allergen risk assessment
Food business operators must carry out a risk assessment for allergen management in their business. As part of the assessment, operators must also consider whether there are any risks to food from cross contamination of allergens.
If a customer asks about allergens in a dish then there is a legal responsibility to identify the above listed allergens and provide the correct information to the customer so they can make an informed decision.
Staff must be adequately trained to deal with allergy requests and adequate signage must be displayed in the premises and in written form e.g. on menus, about food allergies and intolerances.
Toolkit for businesses
Allergen labelling on foods
Currently, labels on pre-packed food items e.g. bags of flour, bottled sauces etc. will have the presence of any allergens emphasised in the ingredients list. Allergens will be stated in bold or CAPITAL LETTERS.
When checking for allergens in the ingredients list, it is also important to check the label for any 'May Contain' allergen warnings e.g. 'Made in a factory that handles nuts'.
When advising customers of allergens within dishes you must carefully check the labelling on all of the ingredients you use. You must also consider any potential risks from cross contamination, allergens that may be present due to handling practices.
New labelling rules for foods pre-packed for direct sale
From 1st October 2021 there will be new labelling requirements for food that is pre-packed for direct sale (PPDS).
PPDS is food which is:
- Packaged at the same place it is offered/sold to consumers
- Is in this packaging before it is ordered or selected.
Any business that produces PPDS food will be required to label it with:
- The name of the food
- A full ingredients list with allergenic ingredients emphasised within this list.
The Food Standards Agency PPDS toolkit and sector-specific guidance helps food businesses identify whether they provide PPDS food and what changes they may need to make. Further information and guidance on Allergen labelling changes can be found on the Food Standard Agency website (external link).
If you have a food allergy and are eating out in restaurants, cafes, takeaways or buying food from places that make it themselves, ALWAYS announce your allergies or intolerances before ordering. This is so that the business can tell you what you can eat.
Be aware that even if food is wrapped, it does not automatically mean that it will have allergen labelling as current provisions allow for allergen information to be given verbally in some circumstances.
Kitchens are very busy places and if you suffer from a food allergy, you need to carefully consider the potential for mistakes to be made and the risk of accidental cross contamination, when you place an order.
Cross contamination happens when foods accidentally become contaminated with allergens during the preparation and cooking process. This can be from contaminated work surfaces, cooking utensils, the handling of food, and ‘hidden’ ingredients, for example in dressings, oils and sauces.