Food allergen information: what do you need to know?

December 2, 2018
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Recently there have been a number of stories in the news about food allergens and labelling.

It is estimated that around 2 million people in the UK have a food allergy (1-2% of adults and 5-8% of children) and many more have food intolerances. Even a tiny amount of a food ingredient that a person is sensitive to can produce an allergic reaction, this could range from mild itching or a rash to more serious symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhoea, wheezing or anaphylaxis (shock). Every year around 10 people in the UK die from allergic reactions to food.

Food businesses are required to inform their customers if their food contains any of 14 specified allergens. Getting this wrong can have serious or even fatal consequences. The allergens are:

  • cereals containing gluten, such as wheat (including spelt and khorasan wheat), rye, barley and oats
  • crustaceans, for example prawns, crabs, lobster, crayfish
  • eggs
  • fish
  • peanuts
  • soybeans
  • milk (including lactose)
  • nuts (i.e. almonds, hazelnuts, pistachio nuts, pecan nuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts and macadamia or Queensland nuts)
  • celery (including celeriac)
  • mustard
  • sesame seeds
  • sulphur dioxide/sulphites, if they are more than 10 milligrams per kilogram or 10 milligrams per litre in the finished product
  • lupin, including lupin seeds and flour
  • molluscs, for example mussels, oysters, snails and squid

How the information has to be provided to customers depends on the type of business and the food, for example whether the food is sold packed or loose or served to customers in a catering environment. Detailed guidance on food labelling and how to provide information to customers can be found on the Food Standards Agency website at:

In summary pre-packed food generally must display a label containing certain mandatory information. For loose foods and catering there are different ways in which the information can be provided, but it must be easily accessible to all consumers, accurate, consistent and verifiable.

Where food is being provided in an institutional environment such as a school or care home there will be duties to protect individuals in the care of the institution and extra care will be required especially for those who are unable to communicate their dietary needs.

If you have any questions please contact our food safety specialist Kim Page using [email protected]