From 13 December 2014 the new EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation (Regulation) comes into effect in the United Kingdom. It requires all food distributors to provide allergen labelling and information to customers. In this update, Pitmans LLP looks at what hospitality businesses should be doing to ensure compliance with the Regulation. 

Does it apply to me?

The Regulation applies to a “food business operator”, which includes any person who carries out an activity in relation to the “production, processing and distribution of food”. Although there are already specific labelling requirements for food producers, food distributors also now therefore need to convey allergen information to customers to the extent that they provide non-prepackaged food.

This includes the following:

  • Restaurants;
  • Hotels; 
  • Bars and pubs serving food;
  • Cafes;
  • Pop-up establishments;
  • Takeaways; 
  • Caterers at functions, weddings and canteens; and
  • Street food vendors.

The Regulation also brings in a new requirement for producers of pre-packed food containing any of the 14 allergenic ingredients. Whilst previously allergens must have been disclosed on food labels, they must be emphasised in the ingredients list, for example by highlighting them in bold. 

What is required?

Food distributors will need to declare the deliberate presence of one or more of the 14 major allergens, which are listed in Annex II of the Regulation. These include eggs, fish, cereals containing gluten, nuts, milk, soybeans, sesame and mustard. 

There is a degree of freedom as to the method of showing the allergen information with the basic requirement being for the information to be easily accessible, clear, visible and legible. This could include providing written information on menus themselves, on a chalkboard or food labels, or where that is not practical, signposting customers to the information or to members of staff who can provide further information.

If information is provided orally then food distributors should have a consistent approach. Staff should be properly trained to know which allergens are contained in the food, or have a dedicated trained member of staff. Businesses should also have written materials to provide to customers if challenged, which can be contained in an ingredients information sheet, recipe book or chart.          

In the case of takeaways, the requirements can be met by a general statement directing customers to check over the telephone or online, particularly if the menu choices change regularly, to avoid the need to constantly update menus. On delivery, information should also be provided via stickers on food containers, which identify the allergenic ingredients used in that food.

What if I do not comply?

The Regulation, does not supply any indications about a sanction regime, which means that such regimes are not harmonized at a European level. Initially, we believe breaches will result in Improvement Notices and First Tier Tribunals in the case of appeals, but there is the possibility of criminal sanctions as non-compliance may endanger consumers.

What should I be doing now? 

  • Review the Regulation and seek advice - the new requirements and the more prescriptive details increase the regulatory burden and costs on hospitality businesses. Food distributors should review the Regulation in detail in order to plan labelling changes in advance and where necessary, seek legal advice to ensure compliance. 
  • Menus - the menus and food information given to customers should ensure that the required information is given and is done so in the correct manner. The need for amendments should be considered in advance so as to, if possible, coordinate it with seasonal or other previously planned updates. 
  • Staff training – make staff aware of the changes and provide relevant training.  
  • Engage with suppliers - check that suppliers are aware of the Regulation and that sufficient information is provided on food content to ensure you can meet the obligations of the Regulation. 
  • Review food preparation – ensure that internal procedures on food preparation are sufficient in terms of cross-contamination.