New Allergen Regulations

30 Oct 2014 By Charles Manners

As catering consultants we come across a variety of catering operations and everyone is having to take account of the new regulations, some are ahead of the game! And will undoubtedly try to benefit!

The new regulations build on a growing demand from consumers to know what is in their food, and in particular from people with food allergies who  have to be extremely careful about what they eat. Food labelling is therefore very important to those with food allergies as there can be potentially serious consequences from eating food that they are allergic to.

The rules do not require every menu to have the information, all that is required is that the staff are trianed and know where to find the information, and it could be an A4 sheet with todays menu items and a checklist of which allergens are in each menu item.

Allergy and intolerance to foods are significant health issues in the UK and internationally. Around 1 to 2% of adults and 5 to 8% of children in the UK have a food allergy, with up to 1 in 55 children having a peanut allergy. An estimated 1 in 100 people have coeliac disease, an autoimmune response to gluten proteins found in a number of cereals. In addition, some people need to avoid certain foods because of a food intolerance, which differs from food allergy because it does not generally involve the immune system.

These figures amount to approximately two million people and do not include those with diagnosed or self-diagnosed intolerances.

The 14 Allergens

The 14 allergens covered by the new regulations are: cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, eggs, fish, peanuts, soy beans, milk, nuts, celery and celeriac, mustard, sesame, sulphur dioxide, lupin and molluscs. The rules also cover beer and wine, with beer containing gluten the biggest risk , but other drinks also include sulphite.

Why Lupins?

Some lupins are cultivated as food. These can either be eaten whole or else crushed to make lupin flour, which can be used in baked goods such as pastries, pies, pancakes and in pasta. Allergy to lupin has been recognised for some time in mainland Europe, where lupin flour is used fairly commonly in food products. In the UK, cases of lupin allergy are less common because lupin is only rarely used in foods. If its use were to increase, we believe the number of cases would rise.

A lupin allergy – which could have gone undetected for years or even decades in the UK – can cause the same anaphylactic reaction as peanuts. It is little wonder that surveys show roughly two thirds of allergy sufferers eat out less frequently than average. 

The Changes

All food service operations  are required from December  13th  to provide information on the allergen content of all food products – which includes drinks. This does not have to be detailed  on each menu item, but needs to be available so staff can easily  find the information and above all understand the implications.

The key is to have a robust and transparent supply chain which gives you all the information, but this does mean we are all going to have to ask our suppliers to be ever vigilant with new products. 

All businesses selling within the EU are obliged to ensure that allergen information is available, and this includes all small cafes in Greece and Spain (I can hear everyone asking the obvious question)

Only if you produce the food yourself or directly import it from outside of the EU will the final obligation to determine the allergen content of a foodstuff fall to you. If you have bought the food, the seller is obliged to inform you just as you are obliged to inform your customers. 

Many (if not all) of the back of house systems Saffron / Indicator / purchasing consortium and in-house systems have developed allergen programmes linked to not only the purchasing but also the menu / recipe costing process, which is undoubtedly easier for the chains and large operations, but can easily be used by the single operator.

The law changes on the 13 December; and there will be no excuses! It is an opportunity to really understand and challenge the supply chain, train and educate the staff, and involve them in the process, and from the operations where I have seen it operating the system it is not overly onerous. If it means that the two million individuals  who suffer from allergies eating out more often that has to be positive!

If you are unclear do give us a call!

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