Food allergens

For a person with a food allergy, dishes containing the food they react to can be highly dangerous. Although in theory any food could cause an allergic reaction, Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers specifies the following 14 allergens and requires their presence in food as an ingredient must be declared. These are:

  • cereals containing gluten, such as wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelt, kamut, and their hybridised strains
  • peanuts (also called groundnuts)
  • nuts, such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios, macadamias and Queensland nuts
  • fish
  • crustaceans
  • molluscs
  • sesame seeds
  • eggs
  • milk and milk products (including lactose)
  • soy beans
  • celery
  • lupin
  • mustard
  • sulphur dioxide and sulphites at levels above 10mg/kg or 10mg/litre expressed as SO2

What you need to do

If you are a caterer you should indicate which allergens your dishes contain on the menu or display a notice to inform your customers with food allergies/intolerances that they should ask your staff for advice about allergens dishes contain. You may consider that a file or folder containing full and up-to-date allergen information for each dish is maintained so that your staff are able to answer such enquiries correctly and show the relevant page to the customer if requested to do so.

You must check the ingredients list of anything you buy in, check the complete recipes of all products and always store foods separately in closed containers, especially peanuts, nuts, seeds, milk powder, and flour. You should also train staff to check with the kitchen every time someone asks for a meal that doesn't contain a certain ingredient.

EU Regulation (EC) No 178/2002 laying down the general principles and requirements of food law, establishing the European Food Safety Authority and laying down procedures in matters of food safety prohibits 'unsafe' food being placed on the market. When deciding whether a food is 'unsafe', the information your business provides to your customers - including menu descriptions, price lists and the information provided by serving staff - will be taken into account.

For a person with a food allergy / intolerance, dishes containing the food they react to are 'unsafe'. You must therefore ensure that you give people with food allergies/intolerances the information they need about whether the food they react to is contained in a particular dish. If someone asks you whether a dish contains a certain food, you should never guess the answer. Find out the information the customer wants and let them decide if they can eat the food.

You must:

  • include full allergen information on the menu, tickets, labels, or a black or white board;
    or
    - display a notice (or a message on the menu) to inform customers that they should ask staff for advice about which allergens your dishes contain
  • check the ingredients list of anything you buy in
  • check the complete recipes of all your products and record the information in a file or folder so that you can fully answer questions
  • always store foods separately in closed containers, especially peanuts, nuts, seeds, milk powder, and flour
  • if a dish contains one of the foods that can cause severe allergic reactions, make sure that you state it in the name of the dish or the description on the menu - for example 'strawberry mousse with almond shortbread'
  • if you use unrefined nut or seed oils in cooking or in dressings, state this on the menu and/or on a notice displayed at the serving area
  • when you have been asked to prepare a meal that doesn't contain a certain ingredient, make sure that you don't cook it in oil that has already been used to cook other foods that could contaminate
  • train your staff to check with the kitchen every time someone asks for a meal that doesn't contain a certain ingredient

Penalties

Failure to comply may result in an improvement notice being issued, requiring compliance to be achieved. If the improvement notice is not complied with it is an offence under the Food Safety Act 1990. The maximum penalty on conviction is an unlimited fine and/or two years' imprisonment.

If allergen information does not comply with the requirements it is an offence under the Food Information (Wales) Regulations 2014. The maximum penalty on conviction is a fine of £5,000.

Page updated on: 26/03/2018