Recent publicity surrounding the tragic death of a customer in an Indian restaurant who unknowingly consumed food that contained peanuts has highlighted the importance of food operators being aware of their obligations and responsibility surrounding food allergens.

The law

Since December 2014 caterers MUST be able to tell customers whether any of their dishes or drinks on the menu contain any of the 14 specified allergens.

This law applies to all premises that prepare, make or serve food where the food is served or sold directly to customers.

The 14 specified allergens are:

  • Cereals
  • Crustaceans
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Peanuts
  • Soybeans
  • Milk
  • Nuts
  • Celery
  • Lupin
  • Molluscs
  • Mustard
  • Sesame seeds
  • Sulphites

How do I comply?

Compliance with law can be achieved in a number of different ways:

  • Up front in writing – for example by detailing each allergen against the product that you are serving on a menu
  • Tell customers that the information is available by way of a notice either on the premises or in the menu advising customers that food allergens advice is available and that they should ask staff for assistance
  • Ensure that staff are aware of where, or from whom, on the premises they can obtain information about food allergens

The consequences of non-compliance

Whilst the recent reported case, which has its own unique facts and circumstances, was an extreme example of the consequences of what can happen when the wrong advice or information is provided to a customer, it does nevertheless highlight the serious consequences of non-compliance.

The CPS have also been very quick to say that "business should take allergies seriously or face jail".

Enforcement measures will include:

  • Criminal prosecution
  • Fines
  • Service of improvement notices

Above all, enforcement action may ultimately lead to loss of reputation, business and livelihood.

What should I do?

To ensure compliance with the law businesses should ensure that:

  1. They are aware of the need to identify the 14 allergens listed above
  2. Ensure that they identify the existence of these allergens in the food that they serve or provide customers with details of where they can obtain this information
  3. Provide staff with training, and on-going refresher training about the existence of food allergens in the food and drink that they serve, and where they can obtain advice about this information should they be asked by customers
  4. Ensure that you have assessed the risk of cross-contamination and have appropriate measures in place to control this risk
  5. Heed the advice of any enforcement officer who may visit to investigate this issue.