We spoke to the Food Standards Agency about what the new allergen rules mean for you

As of the 13th December 2014 new allergen rules are taking place in the UK which are likely to affect a number of MKG customers.

Dr Chun-Han Chan
Dr Chun-Han Chan

With that in mind, we conducted a Question & Answer session with Dr Chun-Han Chan, the Senior Communications Manager for the FSA, to get the answers to the questions that are most likely to be concerning our customers.

We asked Dr Chan: Why are the allergen rules changing?

“The rules are changing to provide greater consumer protection. Food allergies and intolerance affect many people across Europe. In the UK alone around 10 people die from allergic reactions to food every year due to undeclared allergenic ingredients and an estimated 1-2% of adults and 5-8% of children have a food allergy which accounts for around 2 million people within the population.

In addition to those with allergies, there are many people with food intolerances, for example 1 in 100 people suffer from coeliac disease. There is also no cure for food allergies which means that the only way to manage the condition is to avoid the foods that make you ill. EU FIC’s allergen provisions require food businesses to provide accessible, clear and accurate information about allergenic ingredients in prepacked and non-prepacked foods to enable consumers to make safe and informed food choices.”

So, whose responsibility is it to provide this allergen information?

“When the new FIR rules come in on 13 December 2014, all catering establishments – whether producing prepacked food or loose foods (not prepacked) will have a legal responsibility to provide the correct allergen information about the ingredients that is in the food you make or serve, to your customer. As a food business serving loose foods, you will have to supply information for every item on your menu that contains any of the 14 allergens as ingredients”.

Ok, so as a food business how can I deal with allergen dietary requests?

“There are a number of things you can do to help deal with allergen deitary requests:

• Make sure the information you provide is accurate
• Keep up to date ingredients information for any ready-made foods bought in
• When cooking, make sure you know what’s in the ingredients
• Consider cooking oils, dressings, toppings, sauces and garnishes
• Update this if you change the recipe or ingredients used
• Ensure your staff know of any changes to allergen information for the dishes provided
• Ensure Staff are trained to deliver this information to customers
• When making food for someone with an allergy, ensure work surfaces and equipment are thoroughly cleaned before use
• Avoid cross-contamination by using separate utensils, cooking oil etc.
• Always wash your hands before preparing any food.”

blackboard allergen information graphic

So do I have to inform every diner of the allergen information for every meal?

“Food allergic consumers have the responsibility to ask for allergen information to ensure that they make safe food choices. However, as a catering establishment, you need to make clear that you can offer this information, if they need it.”

“The legislation requires all catering establishments to provide allergen information for the 14 specific allergens, if contained as an ingredient in the food they sell or serve. This allergen information must be easily accessible to all consumers as well as accurate, consistent and verifiable. It is also essential to ensure that it can be updated easily when required.”

“Food businesses can no longer say they ‘don’t know’ what is in their meal OR refuse to serve those with allergies or intolerances, and they will have to have safe processes in place to provide this information rather than guessing or basing information on recall. This allergen information can be provided in a number of methods. It can be provided via recipe sheets, specification sheets or scrap book with labels of the ingredients. The FSA has some tools which can help businesses collect, record and report allergen information and work flexibly as the menu changes which you can find on our website”.

checking for allergy information graphic

(You can find them here: www.food.gov.uk/allergen-resources)

What happens if I don’t know the allergen information for food I am serving?

“Depending on local arrangements, local authority Environmental Health Officers and/or Trading Standards Officers will check and monitor to see if food businesses are providing the correct information (i.e. allergen information being given orally and/ or in writing) to consumers”.

“Local authorities are keen to work together with food businesses in ensuring compliance. In most instances, this may involve a step by step approach. However, where the business fails to act upon previous advice given by the local authority, a penalty notice (known as an Improvement Notice) may be issued. These notices formally outline the corrective steps the business should take within a set period of time. If you are unable to provide allergen information for something you are serving, it is very important that you are clear about this to the customer who is asking, so they can make a safe food choice.”

Does it matter which industry I operate in?

“The new rules will apply to you if you are a catering establishment that deals with:

• prepacked food – for example if you are a manufacturer producing prepacked foods. It will help you decide what you should put on the label if foods you produce contain ingredients that some people are allergic to.

• loose food (not prepacked), where for example, you provide meals in a café or restaurant; sell food that you wrap yourself, such as loose bread rolls, sandwiches, cakes, deli products or other unpackaged foods; or provide institutional catering such as in schools, hospitals and care homes or are a child minder that provides food for the children in your care”.

You can find out more in the leaflets that you can find on this page: https://www.food.gov.uk/business-guidance/allergen-guidance-for-food-businesses

There are many businesses involved in a supply food chain, who has overall responsibility for the allergen information?

“The food business operator (FBO), whose name the food is marketed under, is responsible for ensuring that the allergen information is compliant with EU FIC. However, Article 1 of EU FIC also explains that food businesses which are not directly supplying products to the final consumer / user need to ensure that their customers have sufficient information to enable them to comply with the rules.”

We hope our session withDr Chun-Han Chan will prove helpful and answer any potential questions you may have had regarding the new allergen rules. We would also like to thank Dr Chan for giving up her time to take part in this Q & A and for providing us with this information.

To find out more:

You can view the 14 allergens and get more information from MKG Foods on our allergen information page.

• You can also find more information at: https://www.food.gov.uk/business-guidance/allergen-guidance-for-food-businesses
• For Industry guidance, templates, posters, leaflets, allergen menu matrices and more go to: www.food.gov.uk/allergen-resources
• You can find your local food safety officer by visiting: https://www.food.gov.uk/about-us/local-authorities
• Safer Food Better Business (SFBB) is a practical approach, based on HACCP principles, to help small food businesses improve standards, understand food safety, protect consumers and comply with the law. You can find out more here: https://www.food.gov.uk/business-guidance/safer-food-better-business-for-caterers
• You can do the Food Standard Agency’s free online allergy training at http://allergytraining.food.gov.uk/

* Please note MKG Foods accepts no liability for the contents of this article. If caterers are in any doubt, we always recommend contacting Environmental Health for more advice