Speak Up for Allergies Campaign

What are allergens?

Food allergens are food ingredients which can cause an allergic reaction or intolerance in some people. Persons who have a food allergy can suffer with an allergic reaction which can be mild to severe symptoms and in some cases serious consequences or even death. As a consumer you have a right to know which food allergens are in any food you purchase.

Consumers may be allergic or have intolerance to other ingredients, but only the 14 allergens are required to be declared as allergens by food law. Food businesses need to tell customers if any food they provide contain any of the listed allergens as an ingredient. Use signage or a notice on the menu to encourage customers to ask staff about allergens. You may wish to display food allergen and intolerance signage.

The 14 allergens

Food business operators in the retail and catering sector are required to provide allergen information and follow labelling rules as set out in law. There are 14 allergens which must be highlighted on the label of any food packed before it is sold to the consumer. Where the food is not packed the consumer must be provided with allergen information when it is requested. If a consumer has a food allergy to other than 1 of the 14 it is also important to know if the food contains it. It is vital to note that there are also hidden allergens.

Food allergen training

It is really important that all staff receive food allergen training so they can appreciate how important it is and what your procedures are. You should record their training as proof that this has been carried out.  The Food Standards Agency have produced free on-line food allergen training for businesses. 

Allergen information and labelling

Food businesses must inform customers if any products they provide contain any of the 14 allergens as an ingredient. There are a number of ways in which allergen information can be provided to you. This can depend on the type of food you buy and the type of food business you order from. The label needs to show the name of the food and the ingredients list with the 14 allergens required to be declared by law emphasised within it.

Allergen ingredient recording

You need to make sure that you know what is in the food you provide. You can do this by recording allergen ingredient information in a written format such as the allergen matrix. Allergen ingredients information should be:

  • recorded on product specification sheets 
  • included on ingredients labels and ingredients should be kept in original or labelled containers
  • Included in recipes or explanations of the dishes provided – you need to consider the impact when recipes change
  • Information you record must be up to date

Download your free allergen matrix template from the following web page www.food.gov.uk/business-guidance/allergen-guidance-for-food-businesses

Avoiding allergen cross-contamination

It is important for food businesses to take steps to avoid cross-contamination in food preparation to protect customers with a food allergy. There are a number of actions you can take to prevent cross-contamination with allergens. These include:

  • cleaning utensils before each usage, especially if they were used to prepare meals containing allergens
  • washing hands thoroughly between preparing dishes with and without certain allergens
  • storing ingredients and prepared foods separately in closed and labelled containers
  • keeping ingredients that contain allergens separate from other ingredients

Allergen cross-contamination can also happen through using the same cooking oil. To cook gluten-free chips, you can’t use the same oil which has been previously used for cooking battered fish. If you can’t avoid cross-contamination in food preparation, you should inform customers that you can’t provide an allergen-free dish.

Food allergen training

It is really important that all staff receive food allergen training so they can appreciate how important it is, what your procedures are and how to handle your valued customer questions on allergens.

You should record staff training. You could:

√ Keep a record that they have watched the following video clip: https://youtu.be/fHo15_MxS4g

√ Complete the Allergen Safe Methods training record in your Safer Food Better Business Pack

√ Keep a copy of your staff certificates after they have completed the Food Standards Agency free on-line food allergen training for businesses. 

Allergen labelling for different types of food

There are a number of ways in which allergen information can be provided to your customers. You will need to choose the method which is best for your business and the type of food you serve. The FSA provides a technical guidance which is helpful.

Prepacked food

The 14 allergens must be emphasised within the ingredients list of pre-packed food or drink. This can be done, for example, by using bold, italic or coloured type, to make the allergen ingredients easier to spot.

Non-prepacked (loose) food

Food businesses such as a bakery, butcher, or delicatessen, must provide you with allergen information for any loose item you buy that contains any of the 14 allergens. Food business operators must make sure that staff receive training on managing allergens effectively. Your staff should:

  • know the procedures when asked to provide allergen information
  • be trained to accurately handle allergen information requests
  • be able to guarantee that allergen-free meals are served to the right customer
  • know the risks of allergen cross-contamination when handling and preparing foods and how to prevent this.

Enforcement and penalties

Apart from the possibility of making a customer seriously ill, you could also face the risk of financial and reputational damage to your food business if you fail to comply with allergen information requirements.

Local authorities enforce allergen information regulations. Failure to comply can result in action from the local authority. If you fail to act on advice given by the local authority, an improvement notice may be issued. If you do not meet the requirements of this notice, you will be issued with a penalty. Details of some penalties below:

Labelling prosecution: failure to declare peanut content results in £6K fine

Links to useful information:

The FSA have also prepared guidance sheets for allergens that can be downloaded in a number of different languages.

Need Advice?

More information and guidance on the allergen regulations and how they affect your business visit Food Standards Agency Allergen Information and Food Standards Agency Allergen Guidance. 

Advice for teenagers and young adults with a food allergy

Useful tips and advice to support teenagers and young adults manage their food allergy is available as part of the #SpeakUpForAllergies campaign here: