Food allergy labelling

New European Food Information For Consumers Regulation (FIR) took effect from December 2014.

Now applies to unpackaged food eg restaurants, takeaway’s deli’s, bakeries etc.

Allergy advice boxes are no longer permitted, although “may contain” advisory labels are. The allergen should be emphasised in the ingredients panel through typeset eg font, style, colour.   The specific type of cereal or nut must also be stated.

The 14 allergens that must be highlighted under UK/European law are: cereals containing gluten (wheat, barley, rye etc), crustaceans (eg shrimp, prawn), molluscs (eg mussel, oyster), eggs, fish, peanuts, nuts, soybeans, milk, celery, mustard, sesame, lupin and sulphur dioxide at levels above 10mg/kg, or 10 mg/litre, expressed as SO2. Lupin and Molluscs added later.

There are some exceptions, where the food is so highly processed that they are no longer capable of triggering an adverse reaction eg fish gelatine in beer/wine, soya in vegetable oil.

If your allergy is not one of those listed, eg lentil, there is no legal duty for the seller to highlight the presence of that ingredient, so you need to read the full list of ingredients carefully. In the past, some manufacturers highlighted allergens in a separate box, but this is no longer permitted.

The rules list nuts as:

  • almond,
  • hazelnut,
  • walnut,
  • cashew nut,
  • pecan nut,
  • Brazil nut,
  • pistachio nut,
  • macadamia nut or Queensland nut
  • and products made from these nuts.

Other types of nuts, and other foods which are not nuts (even though they are called nuts i.e. chestnuts, pine nuts and coconut), are not named in the rules, even though they are known to cause allergy in some people.

Note that by law, “cereals containing gluten” includes oats! Spelt and Kamut should be declared as containing wheat. Oats contain avenin, rather than gliadin, but related. Products containing oats that have not been contaminated by wheat can be declared “gluten free” by law, so effectively the law considers oats as both containing but not containing gluten…

See also Advisory labels.

( technical guidance on new labelling law)

There is no legal duty to highlight changes in recipes.  The same product with the same packaging can sometimes have different ingredients, depending on where it is produced.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has ordered councils to encourage restaurant owners to check their ingredients.

Note that non-EU countries will have their own rules eg US has only 9 ingredients that must be highlighted (not molluscs, mustard, celery, or lupin).

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