All food businesses need to provide information about the allergenic ingredients used in food sold or provided by them. This requirement extends to both prepacked and non-prepacked (loose) products.

So, what are the rules and who do they apply to?

Detailed guidance on the rules is available on the Food Standard’s Agency website which can be found here. This includes a list of the 14 major allergens which must be declared whether they are ingredients or processing aids.

The mandatory information should be easily accessible, in a conspicuous place, easily visible and clearly legible. Information should be permanent where appropriate, for example on food labels, and it must be able to withstand handling.

The information should not be hidden, obscured, misleading, diminished or interrupted by other written or pictorial matter, or any other intervening material.

Whilst the use of icons or symbols to indicate the presence of allergens is permitted, these must be accompanied by unambiguous explanations (in words and/or numbers) to ensure instant and correct consumer understanding. The addition of words and/or numbers is very important since currently there is no single agreed set of icons or symbols across Europe for indicating the presence of allergens in pre-packed and non-pre-packed foods.

These rules apply as equally to food businesses who sell at a distance, for example online takeaway businesses, as they to direct food sellers. If selling at a distance, the information needs to be available both at the point of sale and at the point of delivery. If the only way to make information available at the point of sale is by phone then this must not be provided at an extra cost to the consumer.

The rules also apply throughout the supply chain, even for food businesses who are not selling directly to the end consumer. Information must be provided by manufacturers or suppliers to enable the food businesses to meet their responsibilities. It makes no difference whether the food is offered simply as a free sample and on or off the usual food business operator’s premises.

There are some exemptions from these rules, including for pre-packed foods sold through vending machines. Also exempt are individuals who are not food businesses, for example, those who occasionally provide food at charity events or voluntary cake sales. If you are a charity or community food provider and unsure whether you should be registered as a food business, you can speak to your local authority’s environmental health department or seek independent legal advice.

If your business provides food which is loose (such as pastries that consumers can self-select and bag up for themselves), Where it’s not possible or practicable to stick a label on an item of loose food, then you must have clear signage at the point of selection and sale, visible to all customers, explaining where this information might be found. This might mean having a sign indicating that customers should ask shop staff for the information.

It is vital that all staff are trained about the importance of providing allergen information accurately. Items brought in to the premises for resale must have the ingredients lists checked regularly in case their content changes and those changes have an impact on the information that staff are trained to give. It is also essential that staff and the relevant information are kept up to date. Staff must have ready access to the correct information and be able to confirm that it is up to date.

Finally, great customer service plays an important part in keeping both customers and business reputation safe. So staff have a key role in ensuring that customers don’t feel alienated or as if they are putting the business to an inconvenience, if they request information on product contents and allergens. They are entitled to this.

If you follow the above advice and check out the Food Standard Agency’s web-site, you should be able to navigate all these above areas confidently and correctly. For more information on food safety, you can take a look at the free guidance on our website here or give us a call for a friendly chat.

You're on our blog and updates site, which is hosted by elXtr. elXtr is a leading online legal information service owned by us, LHS Solicitors LLP. Law for the online generation starts here.