Know the score on allergen rules

THE regulations requiring caterers to provide allergen information have been in force since December 13, 2014.

While some businesses have implemented measures to meet the requirements, many have yet to get started. If you haven’t yet taken steps to comply, you need to act now.

Liz Taylor
Liz Taylor of TKM Consulting

There are already a number of myths and pitfalls you should avoid, some of which are explored below.

Myth – you need to list all the ingredients of each dish on the menu.

The requirement to list ingredients only applies to prepacked food and, therefore, is unlikely to apply to the majority of caterers serving meals.

The information that must be provided for non-prepacked food is whether one or more of the 14 allergens listed at Annex II of the Regulations have been purposely added to the dish (don’t forget salads, side orders and garnishes).

Information can be provided on the menu although can also be provided in other ways, for example orally by staff.

Myth – I don’t need to do anything as I already highlight gluten free and dairy free items on my menu.

There can be little doubt that this type of information meets a growing consumer demand; however, be aware that gluten and dairy are not the allergens listed in the regulations.

Furthermore you are required to identify whether an allergen is present, not identify foods free from allergens.

shutterstock_bacon and eggs

In the case of gluten the regulations require you to identify the cereal containing gluten (you must specify which cereal), and in the case of dairy people will usually be referring to milk. Highlighting gluten would fall under ‘voluntary information’ and is not a legal requirement.

Pay careful attention to using ‘gluten free’ as it is defined by law. Even if you are purchasing ingredients that are free from gluten, it is unlikely they will be ‘gluten free’ by the time they reach the consumer.

Myth – I am not sure what allergens are in some of my dishes so I have used a ‘may contain’ statement to cover everything.

The regulations make an important distinction between allergens purposely added to a dish, and allergens that may be in a dish, for example through cross contamination.

The regulations only require information to be provided about allergens that have been purposely added to the dish.

You need to be specific about allergens present and the information cannot be provided using the term ‘may contain’.

For some people only very small amounts of an allergen are required to trigger allergic reactions, levels which could be reached as a result of cross contamination. You may choose to additionally inform people about possible cross contamination risks by providing a ‘may contains’ statement.

However, this also constitutes voluntary information and is not mandatory.

Pitfall – drinks

Don’t forget your drinks.

shutterstock_pub food

However, unlike most dishes, there are likely to be at least some items that are intended to be sold on to the consumer in their packaging (prepacked) and therefore the labelling should already comply. Examples may be bottled or canned products. Note that the regulations have different requirements for prepacked food. If in doubt, check the regulations and contact your suppliers.

If you are selling non-prepacked drinks such as draught beers, wine by the glass or spirits, allergen information must be provided as outlined above.

What next?

Still not sure where to start?  Firstly check the Food Standards Agency (FSA) website and discuss the requirements with your environmental health officer.

Make sure you understand how the regulations apply to your business before investing time and money in undertaking potentially costly activities such as producing new menus and staff training.

• Liz Taylor is managing director of training firm TKM Consulting.