It is important to know what your food contains as some ingredients can cause adverse reactions. This may be because a customer is allergic or have a food intolerance. Allergens in food can cause severe reactions, including death to those with acute allergies. Food intolerances on the other hand generally have minor symptoms.

In the UK they affect around 8% of children and 2% of adults, and 10 people die in the UK from anaphylaxis induced by a food allergy every year. Since 2014 any allergens present have been required to be declared on non-prepacked food, (food sold directly to the consumer at catering outlets). The allergens included are:

  • Cereals that contain gluten (including wheat, rye, barley and oats)
  • Crustaceans (including prawns, crabs and lobsters)
  • Lupin (lupins are common garden plants, and the seeds from some varieties are sometimes used to make flour)
  • Molluscs (including mussels and oysters)
  • Tree nuts – such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios and macadamia nuts
  • Sesame seeds
  • Sulphur dioxide and sulphites (preservatives that are used in some foods and drinks)

It is an offence to display misleading or incorrect information, or allergen information, that does not comply with the requirements. Penalties for non-compliance with food safety legislation are unlimited fines under the new sentencing guidelines. Sadly cases of non-compliance usually only come to light when a customer has suffered an allergic reaction.

A high profile case example is of restaurant owner Mohammed Zaman, who has been jailed for six years for the manslaughter of a customer with a peanut allergy, after he supplied him with a curry containing peanuts. The victim, Paul Wilson, had asked for no nuts but the court heard that Zaman had swapped almond powder in recipes for cheaper groundnut mix containing peanuts, despite previous warnings.

Greene King were fined £24,000 after an 11-year-old boy suffered an anaphylactic shock in one of its pubs after eating a baked alaska, on the recommendation of the staff and manager having asked for a dessert with no egg. Information on the allergens sheet was incorrect and was different from the information provided by suppliers.

Risks to the public and to your business can be reduced by ensuring that you keep records of ingredients used. If information is not on the packaging ask your supplier, they should be able to provide you with a specification document. Make sure to check with them regularly in case there are any changes.

In order to avoid cross contamination issues, ensure any ingredients that contain allergens are stored separately and clearly labelled. As well as, or instead of referring to written information on notices and menu descriptions, customers may ask for information from any member of staff. All staff you employ must be aware of the risks surrounding allergens and the importance of providing correct information to consumers.