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New allergen laws: are you ready?

New food information laws coming into effect on 13 December 2014 will create additional legal requirements for any business that sells food to customers.

Under the Food Information Regulations 2014 businesses that supply non-prepacked food will now have to inform customers of the presence of any potentially allergic substances that may be present in their food.

Failure to comply is a criminal offence carrying fines of up to £5,000 in the Magistrates' Court. A further concern is the associated reputational damage and unwanted press publicity that tends to come with an investigation and/or prosecution by a local authority. 

If your business sells cooked or prepared food to customers, you need to be aware of the requirements. In addition to restaurants, the laws will apply to pubs, retailers with cafes and even mobile food trucks.

There is a list of 14 allergens which, if present in a particular dish or product, food suppliers will be expected to warn customers about. This list stems from harmonised EU law and will apply in all EU member states.

The list includes well-known problematic ingredients such as nuts, gluten and milk, but also contains lesser-known allergens such as celery, sulphites and sesame seeds.

Consideration therefore needs to given as to whether any of the listed substances are present in any food supplied by your business. 

Thankfully for food businesses, there is a degree of flexibility as to how you can provide the allergen information to customers. For example, the information may be provided on the menu, on a chalk board, tickets or provided verbally by an appropriate member of staff.

According to guidance by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), if the information is provided verbally by a member of staff then it is necessary to make it clear that the information can be obtained by asking a member of staff by means of a notice or label that can be easily seen by customers.

The DEFRA guidance states that any labels or notices on the menu or elsewhere must be clear and conspicuous, not hidden away, easily visible and legible.

Advice

If the new regulations apply to your business we recommend putting in place procedures now to ensure that your staff are adequately trained and any menus or customer information notices are adjusted before 13 December.

Particular consideration should be given to new or special dishes where staff may not be familiar with the associated allergen information.

Food traders may also be aware that the government is currently consulting on sentencing guidelines for food safety and hygiene offences, which is likely to lead to higher fines particularly in the case of companies with high annual turnover. The consultation is due to end in February 2015, with the guidelines expected to come into effect later in 2015.   

TLT has extensive experience advising leisure and retail clients on food labelling law, including food-related prosecutions brought by local authorities. For more information contact Duncan Reed.

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at November 2014. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases; we cannot be held responsible for any action (or decision not to take action) made in reliance upon the content of this publication.

TLT LLP is a limited liability partnership registered in England & Wales number OC 308658 whose registered office is at One Redcliff Street, Bristol BS1 6TP England. A list of members (all of whom are solicitors or lawyers) can be inspected by visiting the People section of this website. TLT LLP is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority under number 406297.

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