Bob Salmon, director of Food Solutions – who helped write EU labelling legislation and guidance – stated in a recent letter to The Daily Telegraph: “You report that many takeaways do not give adequate guidance on allergens. This is partly because the FSA has ignored the instruction from the European Commission in April 2014 that demands full allergen labelling for foods on display for customers to select.
“When I pointed this out to the FSA official, he told me he had not seen that EC document.”
The guidance states allergens used in manufacturing or preparing a food and still present in the final product, even in an altered form, should be labelled.
‘The principal field of vision’
They should be declared “in the principal field of vision” and clearly distinguished from the rest of the list of ingredients.
According to the guidelines, the rules apply to all prepacked products: “Prepacked means any single item for presentation as such to the final consumer and to mass caterers, consisting of a food and the packaging into which it was put before being offered for sale, whether such packaging encloses the food completely or only partially, but ... in such a way that the contents cannot be altered without opening or changing the packaging.”
Prepacked does not cover “foods packed on the premises at the customer’s request or prepacked for direct sale.”
Responding to Salmon’s claims, Keith Millar, head of the FSA’s allergy and intolerance team, told Food Manufacture: “Guidance documents are not an authoritative statement or interpretation of the law, as only courts can decide whether an offence has been committed.
‘Not compulsory for food businesses’
“It is not compulsory for food businesses to follow such guidance documents, unless specifically stated.”
According to the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation, a food business must provide information on 14 specific allergens to the consumer for prepacked and non-prepacked products.
Food business operators are not legally obliged to ask all allergen sufferers if they have allergies or to provide allergen-free meals, said Millar.
A proactive approach from allergic consumers, while accommodating customers, is seen as best practice.
Environment secretary Michael Gove launched an allergen labelling consultation in January. It is scheduled to close on 29 March.