Around two million people in the UK have a food allergy, with symptoms ranging from rashes and itching to more severe conditions such as vomiting, diarrhoea, wheezing and, in extreme cases, even death.
To help these people, and those with food intolerances, the EU introduced the Food Information for Consumers Regulations, which came into force in the UK at the end of 2014.
These regulations require any business involved in the manufacture or sale of food to provide consumers with information on 14 recognised allergens including cereals containing gluten, eggs, nuts and milk. For pre-packed foods, this information must be emphasised in the ingredients list, while for non-pre-packed foods, including catering, it must be made available to consumers.
The way in which this information is provided will depend on the nature of the food business. For example, manufacturers must include allergen information, in a set format and minimum font size, on both pre-packed and non-pre-packed food. Caterers, including restaurants, sandwich bars, pubs and schools, can provide this information in a number of ways including on the menu, on chalkboards, tickets or verbally, but it must be clear. Staff must also be given basic allergen training so they are able to handle food allergy queries from customers.
EFFECTIVE ALLERGEN MANAGEMENT
As well as ensuring that consumers are made aware of what’s in their food, the regulations will mean that food businesses need to facilitate effective allergen management. This includes:
• considering how allergenic ingredients are stored and labelled on premises
• removing or reducing potential cross-contamination which may arise from shared equipment such as chopping boards or serving spoons
• thoroughly cleaning work surfaces and equipment
• thorough hand washing before preparing food.
Where individuals are owed a duty of care by those providing them with food, such as in nurseries, schools, hospitals or prisons, a process needs to be in place to safeguard those individuals, especially where they may be unable to communicate their dietary needs, for example, the very young or those with mental illness. For instance, where the individual cannot make a safe dietary choice, the caregiver should be able to identify that individual and provide them with food which is safe for their consumption.
All food businesses will need to be aware of the requirements to ensure compliance. Our risk control surveyors will be ensuring that those customers we visit are aware of and understand the regulations, pointing them to relevant information and guidance as appropriate.
The implications for non-compliance are serious. Failure to meet the allergen requirements is a criminal offence due to the impact of non-compliance on public health. Subsequently, penalties can include large fines and, where an improvement notice is issued and the business doesn’t comply with this, up to two years’ imprisonment.
There are also ramifications for insurance with potential liability picked up by the insured’s Public Liability or Product Liability cover. In the event of a member of the public suffering an allergic reaction as a result of food that does not have the necessary information, they may be able to seek compensation under these. Where this happens, the insurer will need to have objective evidence of compliance with the requirements of the regulations.
As a result, it is possible that insurers will take a more rigorous approach to compliance in the future. This may include asking for confirmation of the type of foods being sold and the steps the business is taking to ensure compliance with the regulations. An inability to do this could affect cover.
Further information on the Food Information for Consumers Regulations can be found on the Food Standards Agency website:
Contact us for more information.
Source: Allianz Insurance Plc