Is your business ready for changes to food allergen laws coming into force before Christmas?

From Saturday 13th December 2014, the Food Information Regulations 2014 will come into force.  From this date, all catering businesses (including burger vans, market stalls etc.) must be able to tell customers whether certain allergens are present in the food or the drinks they serve.

The allergens are:

  • celery,
  • cereals,
  • crustaceans,
  • eggs,
  • fish,
  • lupin,
  • milk,
  • molluscs,
  • mustard,
  • nuts,
  • peanuts,
  • sesame seeds,
  • soybeans; and
  • sulphites.

The law allows some flexibility on how this information is provided to customers.  It can be done upfront on the menu e.g. “Tuna Niçoise – contains fish, egg and celery” or if this is not practical due to frequent menu changes, by signposting to customers where the information is available, e.g.  “Food allergies and intolerances. Before ordering, please speak to our staff about your requirements”.

The key to compliance with the new laws will be having a robust system for ensuring that allergen information is available for the foods and drinks served in an establishment so that when a customer asks, staff are able to find out the information easily. Ignorance is no excuse and general caveats such as “may contain nuts” will no longer be permitted.

Food businesses will also need to communicate with their suppliers and ensure staff have appropriate training. They may wish to consider appointing a member of staff to be the designated allergen officer to take on responsibility for collating the relevant information, staff training, tracking menu changes and keeping records.

Enforcement

The new legislation will be enforced by the trading standards departments of local authorities although environmental health officers carrying out checks at premises will also be able to investigate compliance with the new requirements. Improvement notices can be issued and criminal prosecutions brought in the more serious cases. However, guidance from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs indicates that enforcement should be “proportionate” and suggests “low level intervention” such as a written warning for appropriate situations.

We have yet to see how trading standards/environmental health officers will actually tackle enforcement on the ground. As the countdown to one of the busiest trading periods commences, and whilst we do not expect a major crackdown on day one of the regulations coming in, food businesses should plan in advance to ensure they have arrangements in place to comply with the new law.