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Restaurants will face tighter rules to help people with food allergies

October 2011: The new Food Information Regulation, which has just been approved by the European Council of Ministers, will have significant implications for people with food allergies.


Restaurants and other catering establishments such as takeaways and hotels will be compelled to have systems in place that enable them to offer ingredient information to people who are allergic to any of 14 specified foods. Food businesses will no longer have any excuse for not knowing what allergens are in the food they are selling.


The new rules will also apply to businesses where food is sold loose and unlabelled, such as delicatessen and bakery counters. Schools and hospital catering will also be covered.


The new rules address a wide range of food information issues, but this article is confined to those parts of the regulation that will help people with food allergies.


There are implications for the labelling of pre-packed foods. Where any of the 14 major allergens appear, these will have to be highlighted in the ingredient list, for example, by means of the font, style or background colour. The idea is that shoppers will be able to pick out information on allergens at a glance. People will also see a minimum type size introduced for ingredients, so businesses at present using miniscule type will have to reprint their packaging.

Food Allergy Support is here to offer information, expert guidance and training to the food industry.

The 14 food ingredients covered by the regulation are: Cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, molluscs, fish, eggs, peanuts, nuts, soya, milk, celery and celeriac, mustard, lupin, sesame and sulphites at concentrations of over ten parts per million.


It will be up to each EU member state to decide exactly how the regulation is to be applied in their own country. Once the legislation has finally been published in the EU Official Journal, food companies will have three years to comply with the requirements relating to allergens.


The highlighting of allergens in the ingredient list would seem to be a positive step, on the face of it. However, we do have some reservations about this. There is little doubt that people will skim-read ingredient lists to pick out the allergens important to them. They may not take quite as much care as they did previously. So if a manufacturer makes a mistake – and fails to highlight an allergen – this might have very serious consequences. Staying positive, we would hope that mistakes like that will not occur.


The new regulation does not address the difficult issue of advisory labelling (“may contain”). This will continue to be a source of frustration for people with food allergies. Our training courses are designed to help food businesses to minimise the risk of cross-contamination and reach the position where "may contain" statements are used only when they are absolutely necessary. To find out about this training, click here.


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