New Allergen Regulations for Caterers: Are you Ready?

Just under 2 weeks to go until the new regulations relating to allergens (the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulations) come into force, which is on 13 December 2014. 

In the UK, there are typically between 7 – 10 deaths each year and thousands of hospitalisations that are directly related to food allergies, and there can be no doubt that these Regulations should help inform and protect the consumer.

If you are a food business operator* that provides food to the final consumer, you need to act now.  The Regulations cover very small businesses, such as one bedroom bed and breakfasts, through to mass caterers and large corporate chains.  Getting it wrong can result in a fine of up to £5k, although this maximum is going to be removed, and don’t forget you may also face prosecution under the Food Safety Act 1990.

This blog predominantly focusses on new obligations for caterers offering non pre-packed food.  For other types of food business and food types, see the links below.

The key requirements are:

  •  Food information must be available and easily accessible for all foods;
  • You need to clearly identify each of the 14 allergens listed at Annex II if they are in your food products. This is for ingredients purposely added to food. Allergens that have not been purposely added but may be present are dealt with below;
  • You must use the word “contains” and the term in Annex II and although you can use pictograms or symbols, these must be in addition to the words;
  • The information can be provided verbally, however, we must provide a sign to tell customers how to obtain information and the information must be accurate, consistent and verifiable.

So what actions do you need to take?   These will depend upon the nature of your business and the type of food offered although most businesses will need to think about the following:

  1.  Exactly what ingredients are in your non pre-packed food products. (Don’t forget drinks.) Contact suppliers to confirm ingredients and ask chefs to write down ingredients in recipes, including brand information. If you have specials boards or changing menus, you need to think about a workable procedure for recording and communicating which allergens are in each menu item.
  2. Identify which of the allergens listed in the Regulations are in the products you are offering. Don’t forget about derivatives which may not be as obvious.
  3. Compliance is going to rely on good communication from the point of purchase to consumption. To achieve this you will need to consider:
    • Whether all your procedures are accurately documented. Are your HACCP plans (CookSafe or Safer Food Better Business) up to date?
    • How are you going to record what goes into dishes?
    • How are you going to communicate ingredients to staff?
    • How are you going to communicate allergen information to customers?
    • What allergen information are staff going to be expected to communicate to customers and how are they going to do this? It may be worthwhile to think about the possible queries staff may get to ensure they are included in their training
    • Staff training at all stages of food production is going to be absolutely fundamental to getting compliance right. The Food Standards Agency has some free packages available, and training is also available from Allergy Action together with other useful information to help with compliance.
  4. Think about changes to the food products you offer, which happen all the time. How are you going to make sure your allergen information stays up to date and is accurately communicated to the consumer? You are likely to require regular reviews, particularly of bought in products.
  5. Finally remember that people can be allergic to any food product. You need procedures to ensure the necessary information is passed from the customer to those preparing the food.

Food stuffs that may be contained in dishes but are not purposely added are not subject to the same requirements but are mentioned by the Regulations under Voluntary Information.  Many of the allergens in the Regulations may potentially be in the working environment and therefore in dishes .  Nuts and gluten are often present in dust, and crustacean, fish and other proteins can be in steam.  We also need to take care with more direct cross contamination such as using deep fat fryers for both preparing products that do not contain gluten, and gluten-containing dishes such as breaded fish.

It is early days for these Regulations so make sure you keep an eye on developments.  If you are interested in customised training for your business please contact me.  For more details and requirements for other types of food and food businesses, see the Food Standard Agency’s technical guidance.

Presentation – this presentation uses resources and slides made available on-line by the Food Standards Agency (originals available from links above), and from Ray Lorimer, Chair of Institute of Hospitality Scotland and Chef Director of Catering at Your Convenience.

*You are a food business operator if you provide food as part of an undertaking publicly or privately and not necessarily for a profit.  This is not the same as being registered as a business for the purposes of business rates.


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