In the guide
This guidance is for England
In the UK about ten people die every year from an allergic reaction to food, and many more end up in hospital. In most cases, the food that causes the reaction is from a restaurant or takeaway.
There is a list of 14 specific food allergens including eggs, fish, peanuts and milk. Caterers should indicate which allergens their dishes contain on the menu or can display a notice to inform customers with food allergies / intolerances that they should ask staff for advice about allergens dishes contain. Businesses may consider that a file or folder containing full and up-to-date allergen information for each dish is maintained so that staff are able to answer such enquiries correctly and show the relevant page to the customer if requested to do so.
Caterers must check the ingredients list of anything they buy in, check the complete recipes of all products and always store foods separately in closed containers, especially peanuts, nuts, seeds, milk powder, and flour. They should also train staff to check with the kitchen every time someone asks for a meal that doesn't contain a certain ingredient.
EU Regulation (EC) No 178/2002 laying down the general principles and requirements of food law, establishing the European Food Safety Authority and laying down procedures in matters of food safety prohibits 'unsafe' food being placed on the market. When deciding whether a food is 'unsafe', the information a business provides to its customers - including menu descriptions, price lists and the information provided by serving staff - will be taken into account.
For people with a food allergy / intolerance, dishes containing the food they react to are 'unsafe'. Businesses must therefore ensure that they give people with food allergies / intolerances the information they need about whether the food they react to is contained in a particular dish. If someone asks you whether a dish contains a certain food, you should never guess the answer. Find out the information the customer wants and let him decide if he can eat the food.Back to top
What foods cause allergic reactions?
Although in theory any food could cause an allergic reaction, Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers specifies the following fourteen allergens and requires their presence in food as an ingredient to be declared:
- cereals containing gluten, such as wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelt, kamut, and their hybridised strains
- peanuts (also called groundnuts)
- nuts, such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios, macadamias and Queensland nuts
- sesame seeds
- milk and milk products (including lactose)
- soy beans
- sulphur dioxide and sulphites at levels above 10mg/kg or 10mg/litre expressed as SO2
What you must do
- include full allergen information on the menu, tickets, labels, or a black or white board
- display a notice (or a message on the menu) to inform customers that they should ask staff for advice about which allergens your dishes contain
- check the ingredients list of anything you buy in
- check the complete recipes of all your products and record the information in a file or folder so that you can fully answer questions
- always store foods separately in closed containers, especially peanuts, nuts, seeds, milk powder, and flour
- if a dish contains one of the foods that can cause severe allergic reactions, make sure that you state it in the name of the dish or the description on the menu - for example 'strawberry mousse with almond shortbread'
- if you use unrefined nut or seed oils in cooking or in dressings, state this on the menu and/or on a notice displayed at the serving area
- when you have been asked to prepare a meal that doesn't contain a certain ingredient, make sure that you don't cook it in oil that has already been used to cook other foods that could contaminate
- train your staff to check with the kitchen every time someone asks for a meal that doesn't contain a certain ingredient
Failure to comply may result in an improvement notice being issued, requiring compliance to be achieved. If the improvement notice is not complied with it is an offence under the Food Safety Act 1990. The maximum penalty is a fine and two years' imprisonment.
If allergen information does not comply with the requirements it is an offence under the Food Information Regulations 2014. The penalty is a fine.Back to top
Various resources for allergen information, including detailed technical guidance, for both prepacked and non-prepacked food containing allergens is available on the Food Standards Agency website, as well as a training module aimed at businesses.
Further information on allergy information for caterers, and the results of a FSA study on how people with allergies make choices in eating establishments, is also available on the FSA website, entitled Understanding the food choice reasoning of food allergic consumers.Back to top
EU Regulation (EC) No 178/2002 laying down the general principles and requirements of food law, establishing the European Food Safety Authority and laying down procedures in matters of food safety
EU Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers
Last reviewed / updated: December 2016