People with food allergies have to take great care when eating out to avoid certain foods that could cause them harm. As a business you have a legal obligation to ensure that any food you produce or prepare is safe. Whilst there is currently no legal requirement to label foods sold unpackaged, you should be able to provide information on allergenic ingredients when asked.
When must you provide information?
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, or
- 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.
When allergen information is provided as part of a conversation with a customer, this should be backed up by written information to ensure it is accurate and consistent. The Allergen Matrix can be printed off and completed to help your business record the allergens in your food.
If food is sold via telephone or an online order, for example a takeaway, then allergen information must still be provided. This might be on a website, menu or orally (for example by phone).
Different rules apply to pre-packed foods.
Pre-packed for direct sale
Foods pre-packed for direct sale are foods prepared on the premises where they are sold. 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 made for sale at retail outlets in other locations, this is considered pre-packed and must have allergen information provided in writing.
Pre-packed 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
Pre-packed food must have an ingredients list. Allergenic ingredients must be emphasised in some way every time they appear in the ingredients list.
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 and 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.
This checklist will help you provide meals for customers with food allergy or intolerance.
- Do your customers find it ‘easy to ask’ for allergen or dietary information? Consider asking your staff to check when taking orders or reservations.
- 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?
- 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?
- Do you know what your critical control points are within the kitchen and in the storage of ingredients to prevent allergen cross-contamination?
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.