Last updated on 12 September 2013
Baseline study to investigate the provision of allergy information for foods sold loose (ongoing)
Stage I of the study (completed August 2013) aimed to assess the current baseline level of allergen information provided for foods not prepacked (including those that are sold pre-packed for direct sale), prior to new legislative requirements coming into force. We are currently undertaking follow-up work with businesses (stage II).
Study duration: October 2012 to December 2013
Contractor: Policy Studies Institute (fieldwork carried out by IFF Research Ltd)
Project code: FS305004
The EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation (1169/2011) comes into force from 13 December 2014. It requires that information on the presence of 14 allergens, when used as ingredients in the products, should be provided for foods which are not prepacked.
The allergens are peanuts, nuts, milk, soya, mustard, lupin, eggs, fish, molluscs, crustaceans, cereals containing gluten, sesame seeds, celery and sulphur dioxide.
The three-year transition period allows food business operators (FBOs) to take the necessary actions in order to comply with the provisions.
Stage I of the research established what information is currently provided by FBOs on these allergenic ingredients when used in foods that are not prepacked. It also established how the Agency can support FBOs to comply with the new provisions.
In addition, the study explored the prevalence and type of information provided by FBOs about cross contamination of food allergens.
Stage II of the study is ongoing to establish the barriers businesses face in providing information on the on the 14 allergenic ingredients to consumers.
The survey will be repeated in 2015/2016 to establish how practices have changed when the rules on allergen information need to be applied
Stage 1 of this research focussed on businesses selling foods that are not prepacked. The primary research objectives were to establish the frequency and type of information provided on allergenic ingredients and the methods used to provide this information (for example via websites, notices, menus, face to face etc).
Evidence was also gathered to establish what information was provided on cross contamination of food allergens and ‘free-from’ labelling.
The research was undertaken in four stages, as follows:
Phase 1 involved a scoping stage with telephone interviews conducted with consumer and industry representatives, food policy experts and local authority enforcement officers.
Phase 2 involved a baseline telephone survey of 1666 food businesses, conducted with food businesses of all sizes across the UK selling foods not prepacked. This survey comprised of five sections which explored
- current information provision practices relating to food allergens
- staff training on food allergens
- changes anticipated by businesses to be able to comply with the new regulations
- awareness of or exposure to any documentation or guidance relating to the provision of food allergen information
- a short demographic section to conclude the interview
Phase 3 involved 56 market stall and mobile food outlets in nine markets across England. It was considered important to speak to market traders as they are likely to sell mixed ingredient food items, not prepacked or prepacked on site.
Phase 4 involved a qualitative follow-up stage of interviews with 25 food businesses selling foods not prepacked, to gain deeper insight into their perceptions and experiences. It also provided an idea of the challenges associated with implementing new allergen requirements in foods not prepacked, and the methods used to address these.
Stage 2 of this study is ongoing. It is aiming to establish in more detail the businesses’ barriers to providing information on the 14 allergenic ingredients to consumers. This will be explored through focus groups with those businesses that took part in Stage I of the research
Results and findings
Findings from the completed Stage 1 include:
Providing consumer information
Overall, 60% of food businesses had a policy on allergen information provision. Formal policies were most common among chains, large businesses, and institutions. Among businesses that sold food containing each of the 14 allergenic ingredients, information provision varied greatly according to the allergen with information on peanut being most frequently provided.
At least 20% of all surveyed businesses only provided information orally, 64% provided information both orally and in writing, 6% provided only written information and 7% provided no allergen information whatsoever.
29% of businesses used ‘may contain’ information in relation to their meals or produce. The allergens most widely referred to in ‘may contain’ labels were ‘other’ nuts and gluten.
Business processes and staff training
Exactly half the businesses surveyed have read materials relating to food allergens. The most common sources of food allergen information were obtained from the Local Authorities and the Food Standards Agency. 88% of food businesses also provided allergen training for their new staff.
Awareness of the new law, anticipated changes and preferred type of help
Awareness was low at just one in five businesses and, among those aware, the follow up interviews suggested there was some confusion about what the new legislation involves and what measures would need to be taken. Awareness was highest in Scotland at 30% and lowest in Wales at 14%.
90% of businesses aware of the new law acknowledged that they would need to make at least one of the following changes: request more information from contractors; provide more staff training; provide information on a wider range of allergens and a wide range of meals/products and be more stringent in record keeping.
The FSA intends to use these findings to inform its strategy to support businesses and consumers with food allergies or intolerances. For full details read the final report.