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Food allergens

In the UK around 10 people die every year due to food allergies, with around 4,500 hospitalisations. Regulations came into force in December 2014, which introduced the requirement that all food businesses must provide allergy information for non-prepacked or loose foods being provided. This can be a meal in a café or restaurant, food that you wrap yourself such as a takeaway sandwich or deli product and food provided in hospitals, schools and care homes. The regulations also revised requirements for the labelling of packaged foods.

Who does this apply to?

This will apply to any food business where food is prepared to be eaten/served to the final consumer. This includes pubs, cafes, restaurants, takeaways, event caterers, mobile vendors, school, care home caterers, shops selling open bakery goods and staff canteens.

Information for non-prepacked foods: what does the law require?

Information must be made available for every item of food a business provides/serves that contains any of the following 14 specified allergens:

  • Celery Mustard
  • Peanuts
  • Sesame Seeds
  • Soya
  • Molluscs
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Lupin
  • Milk
  • Crustaceans
  • Cereals containing Gluten (includes wheat, rye, barley and oats)
  • Nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews, pecan nuts, Brazil nuts, pistachio nuts, macadamia and queensland nuts)
  • Sulphur Dioxide (>10mg/litre)

What do businesses need to do?

Businesses must make information available for every food item it provides that contains any of the 14 allergens. To meet with the legislation food businesses providing non pre-packed food must do the following:

  • Have details listed clearly in an obvious place such as on the menu, on a chalk board, in an information pack or provided orally by staff
  • If information is not provided upfront the food business will need to ensure that customers are signposted to where they can obtain the information, for example, having a sign stating 'For allergy information, please speak to a member of staff'.
  • If the information is being provided orally businesses must ensure there is a way for the information to be checked by others and to be given consistently (written records).
  • Food being sold at a distance e.g. telephone order takeaways, the information must be provided before the purchase is complete (either orally or written) and in a written format when the food is delivered.
  • Businesses must look carefully at each menu item they are selling/serving, looking at all the ingredients included within that product. Don't forget to think about every component of a food product, down to any oils, sauces or garnishes used.
  • If pre-packed or pre-prepared foods are used in a recipe information will need to be obtained as to the ingredients in that product e.g. from the label or from communicating with suppliers.
  • Keep records as to where information on allergens has come from e.g. copies of labels/ suppliers' details.
  • Review the information regularly, in particularly when there is a change of menu or recipe or if a different brand of an ingredient or different supplier is used.
  • Train staff and keep them informed.
  • Make sure allergen information is easily accessible. Do not rely on one member of staff alone to be able to provide the information.
  • Make sure controls are in place to prevent cross contamination of foods. Thoroughly clean work surfaces, hands and equipment between uses.
  • Document the controls that have been put in place in your food safety management system.

What can happen if a business fails to comply?

Lack of information or information that is incorrect can be fatal and there can be heavy consequences for a business.

A restaurant owner was jailed for 6 years for manslaughter after a customer, who was allergic to peanuts, died after eating a curry which claimed to be 'nut free'. Paul Wilson, 38, suffered a severe anaphylactic shock after eating a takeaway curry which contained peanuts from an Indian restaurant in North Yorkshire.

The customer specifically requested 'no nuts' in his meal when he ordered a chicken tikka masala from the restaurant in January 2014. Despite the lid of the container being labelled 'no nuts', the curry contained peanuts, to which Paul Wilson was allergic and which caused his death.

To save money, the owner had switched from using almond powder to a cheaper nut mix which contained peanuts. The owner had failed to make his customers aware of this and continued to make and sell curries which he claimed to be 'nut free'.

Further Information

The Food Standards Agency has lots of information on providing allergen information, both for pre-packed and non pre-packed foods.


Telephone: 01304 872216




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