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Be Ready for Allergy Labelling

New allergen legislation comes in to force in the middle of the busy Christmas period on the 13th December. If you haven’t got it sorted, don’t panic! Take Stock talks you through what you have to do and why…

What is it?

The EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation 1169/2011 will require food businesses to provide allergy information to customers on food sold unpackaged – that means all dishes in restaurants, cafes and bars.


Allergies continue to be a widespread problem in the UK, with the most recent statistics suggesting that 21 million adults suffer from at least one type of allergy, and numbers are continuing to rise, particularly when it comes to food allergies. Recent data also suggests that by 2015, 50% of Europeans will suffer from allergies. The laws are changing so that consumers can make safe decisions when purchasing food. Caroline Benjamin, director of the Food Allergy Training Consultancy explains, “Legislation has been introduced because of the increase in allergies, intolerances and coeliac disease across the UK and Europe, and the increased incidence of consumers falling ill or suffering anaphylaxis while eating out or ordering take-away meals.”

Cost to your business

The British Hospitality Association (BHA) has calculated that it could cost the industry £200m a year to implement the new procedures but it’s something that has become part of the catering culture. Your business may only serve one allergy customer in a blue moon but this doesn’t mean you can delay. You need to be prepared. That way, when a customer does ask for food ingredients and allergy information, you are ready.

You’re not alone

If you haven’t started preparing for the new legislation don’t worry, you’re not alone. Research undertaken by Unilever Food Solutions found that the majority of caterers have yet to take steps. Wendy Duncan, technical manager for Unilever Food Solutions, says: “It’s apparent from our research and queries we’re getting from our customers that operators are concerned about the new legislation. Only a third of businesses said they felt ready for the change.”

What’s involved?

Any food or recipe which contains one or more of 14 named allergenic ingredients will need to be labelled as such and declared to consumers. The 14 substances or products stipulated that can cause allergies or intolerances are: fish, crustaceans, molluscs, nuts, peanuts, milk, eggs, soybeans, celery (including celeriac), mustard, sesame seeds, lupin, sulphur dioxide and sulphites (at concentrations more than 10mg/kg) and cereals containing gluten – such as wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelt and kamut.

Sue Hattersley, head of food allergens at the Food Standards agency, explains how this information can be relayed to customers, “caterers will be able to provide this information in the ways that best suit their individual businesses – on a menu, a ticket, a chalkboard, or as part of a conversation with staff. If a business does decide to give this information orally this will have to be backed up by good allergen control processes and staff knowledge, and these can be checked by local authority enforcement officers.”

A positive effect

Chef Tom Kerridge says operators must see the law as a positive step as it helps customers make safe choices and will force good customer service throughout the industry. Ensuring staff know about the ingredients in each dish can only help them provide better service.

Research carried out by the FreeFrom Awards found that only 20% of allergy sufferers or those with food intolerances wanted more choice. Instead, 60% wanted clear, reliable and transparent information about possible allergens in their food.

Explains Food Allergy expert Liz Allan, “While implementing the right recording processes and training staff about allergens will be time-consuming and potentially expensive, the long-term benefits of such a change in business models make it worthwhile. People think regulations are a pain, but if they do it in the right way, people with allergies will be loyal customers, because they appreciate how difficult it can be. They spread the word and will come back and eat there.”

What you should do

  • Store information on ingredients in your dishes and products on a system that can be easily updated and presented to consumers
  • Create menus or dishes which are free from allergens or review each menu item to ensure that all allergens are described
  • Ensure that your suppliers notify you of any allergy changes to their products
  • Store allergen-containing ingredients away from non-allergen-containing ingredients
  • Minimise the risk of cross contamination by using separate areas for non-allergen containing dishes
  • Ensure all staff are allergen aware and can relay the correct information to the customer
  • Provide training programmes for staff if needed

Help is at hand

Unilever Food Solutions has created on-line guides and help for caterers. “We’ve produced a simple-to-use allergens and diets guide for professional caterers. This gives clear and practical advice to help operators get ready for December. It includes detailed information about the 14 allergens, what foods and products may contain them, and hints and tips on how to make substitutions on their menus. The guide makes an ideal tool to help operators train their staff and there’s an online quiz to test employee knowledge about allergens,” says Unilever’s Wendy Duncan.


If you feel your staff need specialist training then a number of companies offer bespoke training in the form of workshops, consultancy and seminars. Check out Food Allergy Aware www.fact.co.uk and Hygiene Audit Systems www.hygieneauditsystems.com and see how they could help.

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