UK: Allergen Labelling Requirements: Warning - May Contain Penalties

Christmas is already a busy time for the food and catering industries but, in addition to this, the government has enacted new provisions regarding food labelling, which entered force on 13 December this year.

The Food Information Regulations 2014 (the Regulations) implement changes required by the EU Food Information Regulation 1169/2011 and their main focus is to standardise allergy information and labelling. While these represent only minor changes for those organisations which already adhere to the 1996 UK food labelling regulations, those that have not had to adhere to them before, such as small and previously exempt producers and those who sell unpackaged food, may be more drastically affected.

Application The Regulations have widened the scope of food labelling requirements to new areas, making it clear that they now apply to "any food intended for supply to the final consumer or to mass caterers". This includes all parties in the food supply chain, from raw material purveyors to wholesalers and restaurants, as well as all catering services where dispatch or departure takes place in the EU, such as airlines and cruise operators.

Allergens The Regulations' new labelling requirements are in relation to 14 key allergens. These are:

  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Shellfish
  • Molluscs
  • Fish
  • Peanuts
  • Sesame
  • Soya
  • Sulphur dioxide
  • Nuts
  • Cereals containing gluten
  • Celery
  • Mustard
  • Lupin

Allergen Labelling The labelling requirements distinguish between food products that are supplied packed or unpacked.

  • Packed – e.g. food sold in sealed bags, boxes, bottles etc. where the product is delivered to an off-site location or sold via a wholesaler
  • Unpacked – open food for sale (e.g. restaurants) but also packed on-site (e.g. at the customer's request or for take-away); where food is prepared, packed and sold on-site, this will count as unpacked.

Packed food sold to the end user requires full labelling information. Products must list all allergens that are present in highlighted text in the list of ingredients, which must be displayed on the label.

Unpacked food sold directly to the end user must only adhere to one requirement, that all allergy information must be displayed clearly before sale. This can be on menus, recipes, tickets or provided verbally by staff. Where customers are verbally informed, the seller should clearly indicate to customers that they are invited to ask staff for allergen information.

Packed and unpacked products sold both via wholesale or in bulk must display allergen information, either on the product's packaging or in documentation that can be guaranteed as accompanying the relevant products or sent before or at the time of delivery. This establishes a document trail allowing each component of the food supply chain to possess accurate information in relation to the products. As such, accountability for food information is imposed on every stage of the chain and lack of knowledge is not a defence. Furthermore, information must be specific and blanket statements such as "products may contain allergens" are not acceptable. Breaching the Regulations constitutes an offence that may result in a fine.

Irradiated food products Separately, the regulations also refer to irradiated food products or products that contain irradiated ingredients. Such products must clearly display either the word "irradiated" or "treated with ionising radiation" in the list of ingredients of the product and above or beside the container in which the product is placed on the market. This is subject to specified minimum levels of radiation used.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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