From 13 December 2014 care service providers will be required to provide their residents/clients with allergen information in relation to the food they serve regardless of whether or not they have an allergy.

The requirement is introduced by the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation (the Regulation) which aims to make food information more readily available to consumers in relation to both packaged and non-packaged food.

Who does the requirement apply to?

The requirement applies to any person who carries out an activity in relation to the "production, processing and distribution of food". This includes, for example, canteens, outside catering businesses, mobile food vans, market stalls, cafes, pubs and restaurants.

Which allergens does the Regulation apply to?

The allergens which require declaration are:

  • Cereals containing gluten – this includes wheat, rye, barley or oats. If it's Spelt or Khorasan wheat, these need to be specifically referenced, e.g. Spelt (wheat).
  • Crustaceans – this includes lobsters, crabs, prawns and langoustines.
  • Eggs – all eggs, such as chicken, duck and quail.
  • Fish – this can be used generically, if there is no specific reference to a particular fish, for example fish stock contains a number of different varieties of fish. Common species are enough to indicate fish, for instance cod, tuna and mackerel.
  • Peanuts – this includes peanut oil.
  • Soybeans – use of "soya" or "soy" is sufficient, although less common terms such as tofu or edamame should make specific reference, for example tofu (soya).
  • Milk – all milk, including sheep, goats and buffalo. However, cheese, butter, cream and yoghurt need not make further reference to milk, as their name is considered a clear enough indicator.
  • Nuts – includes almond, hazelnut, walnut and cashew nut, pecan nut, Brazil nut, pistachio nut, macadamia nut and Queensland nut.
  • Celery
  • Lupin – seed and flour.
  • Molluscs – all types, including oyster, squid, cockles, mussels, winkle and scallops.
  • Mustard – the term refers to the mustard plant and other forms originating from it, including leaves, seeds, flour, table mustard etc.
  • Sesame – seeds, powder and oil.
  • Sulphur dioxide and sulphites at levels above 10mg/kg or 10mg/litre – this applies to deliberately added ingredients, such as garlic, onion and dried fruits like apricots.

How does the information need to be presented?

This information can be supplied on menus or chalk boards but it must be clear, conspicuous, visible and legible.

The information can also be provided verbally by staff so long as consumers are aware that they need to ask a member of staff for the information. There may be, for example, a notice or sentence added to the menu. A menu, for example, could contain a statement with wording to the effect of:

"Food Allergies & Intolerances - Before you order your food & drinks, please speak to our staff if you have a food allergy or intolerance"

There should be a consistent approach if the information is provided verbally by staff. Staff should be properly trained to know which allergens are contained in the food, or have a dedicated member of staff who is fully briefed on the allergens and is able to verify it upon challenge. You should also have written materials to provide to your clients if challenged, which can be contained in an ingredients information sheet, recipe book or chart.

It is not sufficient to simply state that all foods may contain allergens. The information must be specific to the food in question, and complete and accurate.

What happens if you do not provide allergen information?

The UK has published draft regulations on enforcement which state that failure to comply with this requirement could result in a fine of currently up to £5,000 (this may change due to current proposals to increase the level of fines).

An offender may also be served with an improvement notice which will require them to them to take specified steps to achieve compliance. Compliance will be enforced by local Trading Standards officers.

Summary

Care service providers that serve food, whether it be a "meals-on-wheels" service or a canteen in a residential home, will be required to provide allergen information to their clients from 13 December 2014.

It is common practice for service providers to ask their clients at the outset if they have any food allergies but, whilst this is clearly helpful, it is not enough to comply with the new requirement. Businesses should therefore be reviewing any existing practices and procedures, or developing new processes, to ensure that they are compliant before the deadline.  Food suppliers are under a duty to provide their customers with allergen information in relation to the food they sell, and so a good first port of call is to contact your suppliers for information.