Is your business clear on allergens?

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Is your business clear on allergens?

01 Dec 2014

The Food Information for Consumers Regulations come into force on 13th December 2014, bringing about changes to labelling and information provision for consumers in respect of the contents of their food, and particularly the presence of allergens.

The legislation applies to the 14 allergens on the regulatory list, which are as follows: eggs; milk; fish; crustaceans; molluscs; peanuts; tree nuts; sesame seeds; cereals containing gluten; soya; celery and celeriac; mustard; lupin; and sulphur dioxide and sulphites.

In respect of pre-packaged foods, purchased at the supermarket for example, the requirement will be that if any of the 14 allergens are ingredients, this should be ‘emphasised’ on the packaging. Additionally, information about allergens must be contained in one single place on the packaging.

This should assist catering establishments in terms of knowing what is in the pre-packaged food they purchase, but such establishments must be aware of the requirements that will be imposed upon them with the introduction of these Regulations.

From 13th December 2014, all food establishments must be able to provide information as to whether any of the 14 allergens are used as an ingredient in the items on their menu (note that this includes drinks as well as food). Such information does not have to be provided in any prescribed manner.

As such, it could be that any allergens included are identified next to each item on the menu. Alternatively, it could be that this is provided as oral information on the request of a customer. However, if the latter option is chosen, there must be some written indication that details of the inclusion of allergens as an ingredient in any item can be obtained by asking a member of staff. Therefore, attention could be drawn to the availability of this information in a note on the menu, or signs on tables or displayed around the premises.

Essentially, whilst allergen information does not have to be provided pro-actively to each customer on ordering/purchasing, it must be made clear to customers that such information is available to them on request. Businesses should also consider that this information needs to be available at all times. As such, if one person is responsible for the preparation of particular items/dishes, the business should be sure that others know the allergen contents of these items in the event that this member of staff is not present. All staff must be able to assist with oral requests, and therefore, even if they do not know about allergen content, businesses should ensure that every staff member knows who to refer any requests to.

Of course, it is also important to consider that ingredients used in dishes prepared in food establishments will inevitably use pre-packaged/supplied food. The information outlined above should be contained on the packaging of the products to allow establishments to pass this information on to their customers. If businesses are not clear on what is contained in the products supplied to them, they should request this information from their supplier. However, it is worth noting that some pre-packaged food items with a long shelf-life may still be available in supermarkets having been supplied prior to the introduction of these Regulations. If businesses are unclear about whether a product contains allergens, it is advisable not to include these as an ingredient. Indeed, it is no longer acceptable to make statements such as ‘may contain’, as these Regulations impose a legal obligation to know exactly what is in the food you are providing.

There are various other requirements imposed on businesses under these Regulations. For example, it is important to be aware that if a customer asks for a meal to be prepared without a particular allergen, staff members must be certain that this can be done before they agree to this request. Owners/managers should be informing their staff of the importance of checking with kitchen staff if they are not sure. Additionally, unless businesses can guarantee against any cross contamination, they should make customers who request allergy information aware of any potential risks.

Businesses should be aware and prepared for the introduction of these Regulations, as the consequence of a failure to provide allergen information, or the provision of incorrect information, is potentially an unlimited fine.

For further information on how to prepare your business for the introduction of these regulations, contact us or call the Licensing Team on 0161 838 7888.

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