The new legislation
The current labelling rules cover pre-packed food and guarantee that all food labels have a comprehensive ingredient listing making it is easier for consumers with food allergies to identify which products to avoid. However, from 13th December 2014, these allergen labelling rules will be changing.
The new regulation was published in October 2011 and built on the current labelling provisions. However, it also introduces a requirement for allergen information to be provided for foods that are sold which are non-packed or prepacked for direct sale. There has been a three year transition period to allow businesses to change their labelling processes and ensure they comply with the legislation. This transition period is almost up.
Care providers are unprepared
According to research conducted for Unilever Food Solutions, with less than three months to go until the introduction of new allergen legislation, it has been found that over half of care providers (53 per cent) are unaware of the new law.
Almost 60 per cent were unable to identify allergens although more than three quarters stated they were asked for information by residents and their families, occasionally or frequently.
Nearly 40 per cent of operators said they had read about the legislation in the media and a third have obtained information from the Food Standards Agency. Despite this not even 10 per cent said they felt prepared for the changes. A significant 92 per cent of respondents felt that the changes have not been well communicated by the Government.
What do providers need to know?
Under the new rules introduced by the EU 1169/2011 Food Information for Consumers Regulation (EU FIC) providers will need to be able to answer any queries by those they support, or family members, on 14 specific allergens in the food they serve. The 14 allergens are eggs, milk, crustaceans (shellfish), molluscs, fish, peanuts, sesame, soya, sulphur dioxide, nuts, cereals containing gluten, celery, mustard and lupin.
Organisations that provide non-prepacked food, a category which includes care homes, must provide information on allergenic ingredients, either in writing and/or orally, for example, staff asking if allergen information is needed when taking an order.
The new allergen labelling rules will not control how businesses choose to provide this information, just that it should be provided.
Allergen information should be easily accessible, visible and legible, regardless of whether the consumer has a food allergy. If writing allergen information on menus, this can be presented in different ways. The allergen(s) can be written on the menu with the ingredient and allergen category eg Chicken Korma [contains Cream (Milk)] or just stating the allergen in the dish eg Chicken Korma (contains Milk).
If certain allergen information is not provided on the menu, there must be clear signs in place to indicate where information can be found. For example, something similar to, ‘Food Allergies and Intolerances: Before you order your food and drinks please speak to staff if you want to know about the ingredients.’ would suffice. However, this only covers information about major allergens used as ingredients, and doesn’t cover accidental contact with an allergen.
As providers have a duty of care to those they support, a process should be put in place to safeguard individuals, particularly those who cannot communicate their dietary requirements. Allergen information will need to be recorded and reported in accordance with the EU FIC regulation, and the requirements of mental capacity legislation must also be considered. Therefore, where someone does not have the capacity to make their menu choice, care staff, for example, would have to make a safe dietary choice on behalf of the person.
To ensure staff members are fully aware of the situation, consider using a system where at least one staff member on shift is aware of the ingredients and allergens in the food offered, so other members of the team can ask for guidance. Alternative by having ingredients on an information sheet staff will be able to confirm allergen information when speaking with service users. Also, ensure that ‘free from’ lists are always current. For example, as menus and recipes change, always ensure that the ingredients are checked and added to the ‘free from’ list.
The regulations are clear that when an organisation has not acted in accordance with the provisions, it is a criminal offence, due to failure on public health. Therefore, it is vital that care providers understand and abide by the new food allergen legislation, in order to avoid prosecution. The maximum fine for non-compliance is £5,000 with the potential that this will change to an unlimited fine. If a client has an allergic reaction or that reaction is fatal as a result of non-compliance with the legislation, the ramifications are likely to be even greater. Enforcement of the legislation will lie with the local authority’s enforcement officers.
From December, care providers will have a duty to provide information on the 14 allergens listed in law to all residents. They will also need to ensure that those who lack capacity to choose their meals are supported and any allergen information is properly recorded and communicated amongst staff. It is essential providers are fully up-to-date with changes and responsibilities. Ensure chefs and kitchen staff are aware of the changes and if training is required, locate a properly accredited trainer to deliver it.
With thanks to Wendy Duncan, Research and Development Manager at Unilever Food Solutions. UFS@williammurray.co.uk
The Unilever Food Solutions tools
The Food Standards Agency’s interactive food allergy training tool
A Think Allergy poster:
EU Food Information for Consumers Regulations http://ec.europa.eu/food/food/labellingnutrition/foodlabelling/proposed_legislation_en.htm