Home Business and economy Allergies and intolerances: information for businesses

Allergies and intolerances: information for businesses

by Laura Johnston

Knowsley Council is reminding the borough’s food business operators in the retail and catering sector that they are required to provide allergen information and follow labelling rules when preparing and selling food. You must know exactly what allergens are present and include ALL ingredients in the assessment.

This means that food businesses must:

  • provide allergen information to the customer for both pre-packed and non-prepacked food and drink
  • handle and manage food allergens effectively in food preparation
  • make sure staff receive training on allergens

The allergens

There are 14 allergens that by law a business must know if they are present in the food they prepare and sell. These are:-

celery, cereals containing gluten (such as barley and oats), crustaceans (such as prawns, crabs and lobsters), eggs, fish, lupin, milk, molluscs (such as mussels and oysters), mustard, peanuts, sesame, soybeans, sulphur dioxide and sulphites and tree nuts (such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios and macadamia nuts).

Pre-packed and non-prepacked foods

Pre-packed for direct sale products are foods that have been packed on the same premises from which they are being sold. Common foods that can fall into this category include sandwiches, salads and pies made and sold from the premises in which they are made. It is expected that the customer is able to speak with the person who made or packed the product to ask about ingredients.

Currently, allergen information can be provided in the same way as for non-prepacked (loose) foods BUT from October 2021, the way food businesses must provide allergen labelling information for Pre-packed for Direct Sale (PPDS) will change. Foods will need to have a label with a full ingredients list with allergenic ingredients emphasised within it. These changes will provide essential information to help people with a food allergy or intolerance make safe food choices.

Proper signage

Food businesses must provide allergen information in writing if selling or providing food to customers directly. This could be either:

  • full allergen information on a menu, chalkboard or in an information pack
  • a written notice placed in a clearly visible position explaining how  customers can obtain this information

When allergen information is provided as part of a conversation with a customer, this can be backed up by written information. This would ensure that it is accurate and consistent. Allergen information must be reviewed regularly especially when recipes or ingredients change.

Signage must be displayed telling customers to inform you if they have an allergen or intolerance.

If you offer food in the form of a buffet, you need to provide allergen information for each food item separately. You should not provide it for the buffet as a whole. You can provide this information by labelling the allergens contained in individual dishes, or by displaying a sign directing customers to ask staff for allergen information. This information must be visible, clearly legible and easily accessible to the customer.

If food is sold online or by phone through distance selling, allergen information must be provided at two stages in the order process.

You must provide allergen information:

  • before the purchase of the food is completed – this can be in writing (on a website, catalogue or menu) or by phone when the food is delivered – this can be in writing (allergen stickers on food or an enclosed copy of a menu) or by phone

Allergen information should be available to a customer in written form at a point between a customer placing the order and taking delivery of it.

Takeaway meals should be labelled clearly so customers know which dishes are suitable for those with an allergy.

Prevent 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.

If you would like further information then contact Knowsley Council on 0151 443 4712 or email at environmental.health@knowsley.gov.uk

Alternatively you can go on the Food Standards Agency website www.food.gov.uk