Allergen guidance for food businesses

Guidance on allergens for food businesses in the retail and catering industry. Includes advice on providing information on 14 allergens and handling allergens in the kitchen.
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As a food business, you must follow the allergen information rules set in EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation (EU FIC). This means that you must: 

  • provide allergen information to the consumer for both pre-packed and non-prepacked food or drink
  • handle and manage food allergens adequately

You also need to make sure that your staff is trained about allergens.

14 allergens

You need to tell your customers if any food products you sell or provide contain any of the main 14 allergens as an ingredient.

The 14 allergens are:

  • celery
  • cereals containing gluten – including wheat (such as spelt and Khorasan), rye, barley and oats
  • crustaceans – such as prawns, crabs and lobsters
  • eggs
  • fish
  • lupin
  • milk
  • molluscs – such as mussels and oysters
  • mustard
  • tree nuts – including almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios and macadamia nuts
  • peanuts
  • sesame seeds
  • soybeans
  • sulphur dioxide and sulphites (if they are at a concentration of more than ten parts per million)

This applies also to the additives, processing aids and any other substances which are present in the final product. For example, sulphites, which are often used to preserve dried fruit, might still be present after the fruit is used to make chutney. If this is the case, you need to declare them.

Prepacked and non-prepacked foods

Different rules apply to prepacked and non-prepacked foods. 

Prepacked

Prepacked refers to any food put into packaging before being placed on sale. Food is pre-packed when it:

  • is either fully or partly enclosed by the packaging
  • cannot be altered without opening or changing the packaging
  • is ready for sale

Prepacked food must have an ingredients list. Allergenic ingredients must be emphasised in some way every time they appear in the ingredients list. 

Prepacked for direct sale

The current FSA interpretation for prepacked for direct sale (PPDS) is that it applies to foods that have been packed on the same premises from which they are being sold. Food that can fall into this category could include meat pies made on-site and sandwiches 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 for these products, allergen information can be provided in the same way as for non-prepacked (loose) foods. This does not apply to food products packed for sale at retail outlets in other locations.

The FSA is currently developing a revised working interpretation of the types of food which new legislation will apply to (see the box below).

Important

From October 2021, the way food businesses must provide allergen labelling information for Prepacked 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 to make safe choices when buying PPDS food.

Non-prepacked (loose) foods 

Non-prepacked (loose) foods include:

  • foods sold loose in retail outlets, for example cold meats or cheeses sold from delicatessen counter, bread sold in bakery shops, meat sold at butchers, pick and mix confectionery
  • foods which are not sold pre-packed, such as meals served in a restaurant and food from a takeaway

If you provide non-prepacked foods, you will have to supply allergen information for every item that contains any of the 14 allergens. 

A detailed explanation of the requirements for pre-packed and non-prepacked foods, including how foods must be labelled, can be found in our technical guidance.

Providing allergen information for non-prepacked foods

Direct selling

If you sell or provide food to your customers directly, for example in a restaurant or cafe, you must provide allergen information in writing. 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 your customers can obtain this information - for example by speaking to a member of your staff

You can use this allergy and intolerance sign to tell your customers how they can find out allergy information.

When allergen information is provided as part of a conversation with a customer, this needs to be backed up by the written information. This is to ensure it is accurate and consistent.

Buffets

If you offer food in the form of a buffet, you need to provide allergen information for each food item separately. You shouldn't provide it just for the buffet as a whole. 

Regardless of how you choose to present allergen information, for example, via a sign saying 'Please ask the staff for information about allergens' or whether you decide to label the allergens contained in individual dishes, the information must be easily accessible, visible and clearly legible to the final consumer. This is regardless of whether they have a food allergy or not. 

Distance selling

If food is sold through distance selling, for example through a telephone or online order for a takeaway, allergen information must be provided at two stages in the process. It means providing it:

  • before the purchase of the food is completed - this could be in writing (for example on a website, catalogue or menu) or orally (for example by phone)
  • when the food is delivered - this could be in writing (for example on allergen stickers on food or enclosed hard copy of menu) or orally (for example by phone) 

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

Label takeaway meals clearly, so your customers know which dishes are suitable for those with an allergy.

    Handling food allergens in the kitchen

    Managing allergen ingredients

    You need to ensure that you know what is in the food you provide by recording allergen ingredient information in a written format. Allergen ingredients information should be:

    • recorded on product specification sheets
    • included on ingredients labels and ingredients should be kept in original or labelled containers
    • included in recipes or explanations of the dishes provided – you need to consider the impact when recipes change
    • up to date

    Controlling cross-contamination

    There are different things you can do to prevent cross-contamination with allergens. These include:

    • having separate work surfaces, chopping boards and utensils for foods prepared free from one or several allergens
    • cleaning utensils before each usage, especially if they were used to prepare meals containing allergens
    • storing ingredients and prepared foods separately in closed and labelled containers
    • keeping ingredients that contain allergens separate from other ingredients
    • washing hands thoroughly between preparing dishes with and without certain allergens

    Allergen cross-contamination can happen through using the same cooking oil. For example, to cook gluten-free chips, you can’t use the same oil which has been previously used for cooking your battered fish.

    If you can’t avoid cross-contamination, you should tell you customers that you can’t provide an allergen-free dish.

    More details and guidance on how to manage allergens in the kitchen can be found in the Safer food, better business pack for caterers.

    Free-from claims, including gluten-free

    Making ‘free from claims’ for meals require strict controls of ingredients, how they are handled and prepared. This is because a free-from claim is a guarantee that the food is suitable for all with an allergy or intolerance. For instance, if you are handling wheat flour in kitchen and you cannot remove the risk of cross-contamination through segregation by time and/or space, you should let the customer know. You should not make any gluten-free or wheat-free claims.

    The Food and Drink Federation provides specific information and guidance on free-from claims, including gluten-free.

    Allergen training

    Your staff should:

    • know the procedures and policies when asked to provide allergen information
    • get training on handling allergy information requests
    • be able to guarantee that allergen-free meals are served to the right customers
    • know the risks of allergen cross-contamination when handling and preparing foods and how to prevent this

    Free online training

    We provide free food allergy online training where you and your staff can learn more about food allergies and the allergen information rules.

    Allergen information resources

    Posters

    Keeping your food allergic customers safe

    This checklist will help you provide meals for customers with food allergy or intolerance.

    1. Do your customers find it ‘easy to ask’ for allergen or dietary information? Consider asking your staff to check when taking orders or reservations.
       
    2. Do you have a process in place to ensure you can provide a safe meal for someone with an allergy or intolerance to a food? For example:
    • do you provide allergen information in an accessible and upfront manner?
    • do you have accurate recipes for each dish that you serve, so there is a clear list of the ingredients you use in your meals?
    • do you label takeaway meals clearly, so your customer knows which dish is which and what is suitable for those with allergy?
    1. Do you keep an accurate record of all the allergens in your meals? Do you have reminders in place to update it when you make changes?
       
    2. Do you know what your critical control points are within the kitchen and in the storage of ingredients to prevent allergen cross-contamination?
       
    3. With this assessment in mind, what can be done to remove or reduce risk of allergen cross-contamination? If nothing can be done, be honest and communicate this risk to your customers.
       
    4. Have you and your team received suitable allergen training to manage allergens appropriately within the business? Is everyone working at the business clear on what this process is?

    Enforcement and penalties

    Local authorities enforce the allergen information regulations. If you fail to act on previous advice given by the local authority, an improvement notice may be issued. If you don’t meet the requirements of this notice, you will be issued with a penalty.

    If you want to appeal an improvement notice, you have 28 days. These 28 days start from the date the notice was issued.