Changes to Food Allergens Regulation
The way in which allergens are labelled on pre-packed foods is changing because of new regulations.
The Food Information for Consumers Regulation (EU FIC), which is due to come into force in December 2014, introduces the requirements for food businesses to provide information about the allergenic ingredients used in any food that they sell or provide.
There are 14 major allergens that must be declared whenever they are used at any level in pre-packed food, including alcoholic beverages. The 14 allergens include:
4. Crustaceans (e.g. Crab, lobster, crayfish, shrimp, prawn)
5. Molluscs (e.g. Mussels, oysters, squid)
7. Tree nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, cashew, pecans, Brazils, pistachios, macadamia nuts, Queensland nuts)
8. Sesame seeds
9. Cereals containing gluten (i.e. Wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelt, karmut, or their hybridised strains)
11. Celery and celeriac
14. Sulphites at concentration of ten parts per million.
The changes will provide the allergen information in a clearer and more consistent way, making it easier to make safer food choices when buying food or eating out.
The new piece of European legislation is called The Food Information for Consumers Regulation (EU FIC) and it will come into force on 13th December 2014. The EU FIC will bring general and nutrition labelling together into a single regulation to simplify and consolidate labelling legislation.
The changes include:
- Any of the aforementioned 14 allergens that are on the regulatory list will be emphasised on the label if they are used as an ingredient in pre-packaged food. Food businesses can choose what method they want to use, for example the emphasis could be done by listing the allergens in bold, contrasting the colours and underlining the allergens.
- The information about allergenic ingredients will be located in a single place, for example the ingredients list (see Figure 1) on the pre-packed food; this means that the voluntary use of current types of allergy boxes, such as ‘Contains nuts’, will no longer be allowed.
- Where allergy advice statements are used on new labels, the statements will direct consumers back to the ingredients list to obtain information on allergens. However, this isn’t compulsory, so if there isn’t an advice statement on the label, consumers must not assume the product is free from the food or ingredient that you are sensitive to, and for that reason always check the ingredients list.
- Some information provided by food business will not change. For example small amounts of an allergen can get into a product following cross contamination or through a production method. So if there is a possibility that this could happen, the products label might state ‘May contain; nuts, milk’. The new allergen labelling rules will not control how businesses choose to provide this information.
- The voluntary ‘Contains gluten’ statement that some businesses currently use will be phased out. Consumers will now need to look for the cereals containing gluten; for example wheat, rye and barley will be emphasised within the ingredients list.
- Currently, loose foods (that can be bought without packaging) for example in supermarkets, delis, cafes and restaurants; don’t have to provide information on any of the 14 allergens. However, from 13th December 2014, information on any of the 14 allergens used as ingredients will need to be provided for these foods. The information could be written down on a chalk board or a chart, or even provided orally by staff. Where specific allergen information is not provided upfront, clear signposting to where the information could be obtained must be provided.
- These rules will only cover information about major allergens intentionally used as ingredients; they do not cover allergens present following accidental contact. Consumers are reminded that if they have an allergy to a product this is not on the regulatory list, it may not be included on the allergen information provided; if in doubt speak to a member of staff. However, as this information does not need to be provided at present, the person serving may not actually know what is in the foods, so don’t risk if any doubt is there
BEAR IN MIND THAT SOME PRODUCTS (SUCH AS TINNED OR DRIED FOOD) HAVE A LONG SHELF LIFE, SO IT IS POSSIBLE THAT BOTH TYPES OF LABELLING WILL BE BEING USED FOR A COUPLE OF YEARS AFTER DECEMBER 2014.
‘Free From’ Foods
Most of the major supermarkets and food service providers produce a list of the products that they sell that are ‘free from’ particular foods or ingredients such as gluten, egg or milk.
The measures used to manufacture such foods ensure that the ingredients are handled and the final products are made in ways that prevent accidental contamination with other allergenic ingredients. It is vital that ‘free from’ lists are kept up-to-date as recipes can change.
Consumers must not wrongly assume that a ‘free from’ product is suitable for any allergy, for example a product that is ‘milk free’ could contain eggs, so for this reason the ingredients list must be checked carefully before purchase and consumption.