The new regulations requiring food business operators to provide allergen information (the EU Provision of Food Information to Consumers Regulations (the Regulations)) have now been in force for a month. While some businesses have implemented comprehensive measures to comply, many have yet to get started. There has been some negative press particularly in relation to caterers and at least some of the issues seem to stem from a lack of understanding of the Regulations and how the requirements should be implemented.
There can be little doubt that compliance with these Regulations will require investment of time and money from some businesses, however, we should already know what is in food products we offer as it is a fundamental requirement of the Food Safety Act (1990). In essence, all these Regulations require is that some of that information is proactively passed to the consumer. It should be simple, shouldn’t it?
Of course, in practice, it is not that simple. One of the key reasons is that the majority of catering businesses have never had to manage detailed information about products in this way before. What is not helping are a number of misinterpretations of the Regulations that I am coming across on a regular basis. My first myth buster blog briefly explores 4 of them.
- Caterers need to list all ingredients on menus.
There is no requirement to list ingredients of a particular product if you offer non-prepacked food. Listing ingredients is a requirement for prepacked food only. This essentially means that if food is prepared for sale on the premises it is sold from, you are not required to provide an ingredients list. This will include most restaurants, hotels, and canteens. If you provide non-prepacked food, the information you are required to provide to consumers is whether the product contains one or more of the 14 allergens listed at Annex II of the Regulations.
- All allergen information must be on the menu.
This is not a legal requirement. The Regulations require the information to be “available and easily accessible” and you may choose to provide it on menus. However, you could also provide it on a separate sheet or you could choose to provide the information orally. You will need to give some thought to making the process of providing information as simple as possible. Consider issues such as how often you change the menu and how will you ensure allergen information remains accurate, the implications for staff training and whether all of the products you offer is on the menu. Don’t forget about being able to demonstrate due diligence and also, if you choose to provide the information orally, you must still clearly inform your customers how they can access the information. You also need to remember the information must be verifiable on challenge.
- You must identify foods containing gluten.
The Regulations require you to identify whether a product contains any of the cereals containing gluten listed at Annex II. You may choose to also highlight gluten although gluten is not listed at Annex II as a separate allergen. Identifying gluten would fall under Voluntary Information and is not a requirement of the Regulations. Identifying gluten-containing dishes without highlighting which cereal at Annex II is in the dish will NOT comply with the Regulations.
If you do choose to identify gluten, make sure you pay careful attention to using the term “gluten free” as this is a term defined by law. Even if you are purchasing ingredients that are free from gluten, it is highly unlikely they will technically be “gluten free” by the time they reach the consumer, if they are being processed in any environment where gluten-containing ingredients are also being processed. Therefore, for most organisations, it may be more accurate to use the term “no gluten-containing ingredients” rather than “gluten free”.
- You must declare whether there is any trace of allergens in your dish.
There is a very important distinction in the Regulations between allergens that have been purposely added to a dish, for example, they are an ingredient in the recipe, and allergens that may be in the dish, for example, through cross contamination. The Regulations require identification of allergens that have been purposely added to the dish. You may choose to additionally provide a “may contains” statement which would cover possible cross contamination. However, as discussed above in relation to gluten, this constitutes Voluntary Information as is not required although could be considered best practice.
Further information on all of these points is available in the Food Standard Agency’s guidance. For more detailed advice, you can contact me and you should contact your local environmental health officer to ask how they expect to see the Regulations implemented in practice. Remember, it is really important to seek advice regarding your business’s particular circumstances.