From 13 December 2014 food businesses, including pubs, restaurants and takeaway outlets, will be required to provide consumers with allergen information regardless of whether or not they have an allergy.

The new EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation (EU FIC) introduces new rules on allergen labelling and information, which will have a direct impact on how food businesses will need to display allergen information to customers. The change in law seeks to provide further consumer protection for some 2 million people living in the UK who have a food allergy.

Who does it apply to?

The EU FIC applies to a food business operator (FBO), which includes any person who carries out an activity in relation to the "production, processing and distribution of food". This includes restaurant staff, who would be classed as food distributors. However, its application will be seen not just in traditional restaurants, but all food distributors will be caught, including burger vans, takeaways and even ice cream vans.

All of these distributors will need to provide information on allergenic ingredients to customers. However, how they choose to inform customers does afford some degree of flexibility.

Which allergens does EU FIC apply to?

FBOs 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.

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 to present the allergen information?

Although there are specific labelling requirements for food producers, food distributors also need to convey this allergen information to customers, as they provide non-prepacked food.

However, FBOs do have some freedom as to the method of showing the allergen information, to ensure that it is easily accessible and visible and clearly legible to the customer, irrespective of whether they have an allergy or not.

FBOs may consider the following options:

  • Written format – this can be on the menus themselves, or on a chalkboard, food order ticket, food labels or webpages.
  • Signposting to the information – where it's not practical for it to be in written format, FBOs could use signposting to direct the customer to a member of staff, for example. A menu 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"

However, FBOs should have a consistent approach in providing the information orally. So, 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 customers if challenged, which can be contained in an ingredients information sheet, recipe book or chart.          

  • Takeaways – where this is done via distance selling (e.g.) orders are made via the telephone or website, you may wish to have 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.

This information also needs to be available on delivery - this can be done via stickers on the food containers, which identify the allergenic ingredients used in that food. For example "Chicken Satay contains: wheat, soy, fish, peanut".

Other considerations include:

  • Buffets – allergen information should be provided for each item separately. 
  • Free samples / complimentary meals – these must also provide information about allergenic ingredients.

Conclusion

FBO's should take a cautious approach when it comes to telling customers about allergens. A risk free approach is to signpost the information as much as possible, including menus, specials board, webpages and ensuring that waiting staff, or managers, are fully briefed on allergen information. Further, FBOs should ensure open communication with their suppliers to obtain as much information as possible on allergen information and ensure that any labelling is compliant and details the allergens present.