The advice sheets below have the latest information on food standards. If you need more advice call 01753 475111 (Enforcement & Regulatory option).
In the guide
This guidance is for England
In the UK about ten people die every year from an allergic reaction to food, and many more end up in hospital. In most cases, the food that causes the reaction is from a restaurant or takeaway.
There is a list of 14 specific food allergens including eggs, fish, peanuts and milk. Caterers should indicate which allergens their dishes contain on the menu or can display a notice to inform customers with food allergies / intolerances that they should ask staff for advice about allergens dishes contain. Businesses may consider that a file or folder containing full and up-to-date allergen information for each dish is maintained so that staff are able to answer such enquiries correctly and show the relevant page to the customer if requested to do so.
Caterers must check the ingredients list of anything they buy in, check the complete recipes of all products and always store foods separately in closed containers, especially peanuts, nuts, seeds, milk powder, and flour. They should also train staff to check with the kitchen every time someone asks for a meal that doesn't contain a certain ingredient.
EU Regulation (EC) No 178/2002 laying down the general principles and requirements of food law, establishing the European Food Safety Authority and laying down procedures in matters of food safety prohibits 'unsafe' food being placed on the market. When deciding whether a food is 'unsafe', the information a business provides to its customers - including menu descriptions, price lists and the information provided by serving staff - will be taken into account.
For people with a food allergy / intolerance, dishes containing the food they react to are 'unsafe'. Businesses must therefore ensure that they give people with food allergies / intolerances the information they need about whether the food they react to is contained in a particular dish. If someone asks you whether a dish contains a certain food, you should never guess the answer. Find out the information the customer wants and let him decide if he can eat the food.
Although in theory any food could cause an allergic reaction, Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers specifies the following fourteen allergens and requires their presence in food as an ingredient to be declared:
Failure to comply may result in an improvement notice being issued, requiring compliance to be achieved. If the improvement notice is not complied with it is an offence under the Food Safety Act 1990. The maximum penalty is a fine and two years' imprisonment.
If allergen information does not comply with the requirements it is an offence under the Food Information Regulations 2014. The penalty is a fine.
Various resources for allergen information, including detailed technical guidance, for both prepacked and non-prepacked food containing allergens is available on the Food Standards Agency website, as well as a training module aimed at businesses.
Further information on allergy information for caterers, and the results of a FSA study on how people with allergies make choices in eating establishments, is also available on the FSA website, entitled Understanding the food choice reasoning of food allergic consumers.
Last reviewed / updated: December 2016
This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.
The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to UK legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab; amendments to EU legislation are usually incorporated into the text.