Allergy information for food businesses

Food allergy is a serious and growing public health issue. There has been a dramatic increase in allergic diseases in recent years:

  • It is thought that as many as one in three of the UK population, or 21 million people, live with an allergy of some form and this number is increasing at an alarming rate. (Mintel, 2010)
  • Hospital admissions in England for allergy and anaphylaxis have risen by more than a third in the last five years.
  • On average, one person is admitted to hospital every 20 minutes, due to an allergic reaction or anaphylaxis - admissions for 2015-16 were 29,544 and in 2011-12 were 22,206 (Data from NHS Digital)

It is therefore important that everyone knows what to do to make it as safe as possible for those with allergies.

Your responsibility

It is the responsibility of all food businesses to provide accurate allergen information to all customers that request it, and ultimately to provide food that is safe for people with allergies. 

Allergens

There are 14 allergens recognised in law. These are:

  • 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
  • fish
  • crustaceans (includes crabs, lobsters, shrimps and prawns)
  • molluscs (includes mussels, cockles, oysters, scallops, squid and octopus)
  • sesame seeds
  • eggs
  • milk and milk products (including lactose)
  • soy beans
  • celery
  • lupin
  • mustard
  • sulphur dioxide and sulphites at levels above 10 mg/kg or 10 mg/litre expressed as SO2

The Food Information Regulations 2014 require a food business to provide information to customers relating to the allergen content of all its food.

It is a criminal offence not to provide this information.

Remember: if a customer declares any allergy to you, you have a responsibility to provide safe food to that person, regardless of whether it is one of the 14 listed allergens or not. 

If you do not do it right - there are consequences

The consequences of not providing the right information to your customers could be fatal.  

Megan Lee was 15 and was taken to hospital after suffering an asthma attack brought on by an allergic reaction. Megan had been served food prepared with nuts. She died two days later.  Watch Megan's story >>

What you should do

Allergen audit

In order to comply with the legal requirement to provide accurate allergen information, we recommend that all food businesses undertake an audit to ascertain which allergens are present. This should include every:

  • dish
  • side dish
  • accompaniment
  • condiment
  • drink 

You can do this on a matrix type document, which can be downloaded from the Food Standards Agency website (DOC 1002 KB), or by using chefs recipe cards (DOC 343 KB).

Update this information every time you get a delivery or shop for ingredients, to make sure your allergy information is up to date.

Verbal information

If you want to provide allergy information to your customers verbally, you must display a poster, inviting them to ask you about allergies.

Download a copy of an allergen signage poster (PDF 23.7 KB)

Providing safe food

You need to consider the layout of your premises, your practices and whether or not you can actually provide safe food for a person with an allergy.

To help you with this, print off this caterers guide, Guidance control of allergens in the kitchen (PDF 726 KB).

Use it as part of your Food safety management system, to show that you have considered allergens in your business.

You may decide after carrying out a proper risk assessment of your business practices and facilities, that you are unable to safely supply foods without the risk of cross contamination of one or more allergens. If this is the case, it is advisable to display a notice explaining this to your customers.

NB this does not negate the requirement for being able to advise which of the 14 allergens are in your food. This is a legal requirement, that you will be expected to be compliant with.

How we can help

Our Trading Standards service have produced a number of food business awareness training resources.  Please contact us at tsdo@lancashire.gov.uk if you would like us to arrange training for you. These are also free to download:

Further information

You can find lots more information for businesses on the Food Standards agency website (external site).

The following resources can be used to help raise awareness of allergens:

If you are using the materials please credit their production to Lancashire County Council Trading Standards Service and Hyndburn Borough Council Environmental Health.