A Guide to Food Allergens

More than 2 million people in the UK suffer from allergies, including 2% of adults and 8% of children. In severe cases, their conditions can be life threatening and can sometimes result in death.

In the UK about ten people every year die from an allergic reaction to food and many more end up in hospital. Food that is perfectly safe for one person to eat may be extremely dangerous for another. There is no cure for food allergies – the only way someone can avoid getting ill is to make sure that they don’t eat the foods they are allergic to.

From December 2014, food businesses now have to give information on 14 allergens – this applies to food that is sold pre-packed by retailers or by restaurants, takeaways and caterers.

Find out more what this means for customers and food businesses.

Further information can be obtained from contacting:


What are the new laws on food allergens?

On 13 December 2014, the Food Information Regulations came into force. They aim to improve the clarity of food allergen labelling on pre-packed foods. They also place a legal responsibility on food business operators to provide correct information to their customers about allergens in loose foods or foods that are not pre-packed.

Do the new rules apply to me if I run a café?

The rules apply to all catering businesses such as cafes, pubs, restaurants, takeaways as well as retailers. They also apply in places like nurseries, luncheon clubs and care homes for the elderly – anywhere where food is offered for sale.

If I use a range of ingredients in my menus, how will I know if they contain allergens?

During the preparation of food, you may use pre-packed ingredients as part of the recipe. Any allergenic ingredients will be clearly listed on the packaging – they may be emphasised in bold text.

What are the allergens that need to be identified?

There are 14 allergens that need to be identified if they are used as ingredients: celery, cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, eggs, fish, lupin, milk, molluscs, mustard, nuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, soya and sulphur dioxide. Most of these allergens are easy to recognise as raw ingredients – the problem arises when they are “hidden” in multi-ingredient recipes. The Food Standards Agency gives some examples of foods where these ingredients might be found.

If I sell food that contains any of the allergens, how should I provide this information to my customers?

There are two main ways in which you can provide the information to your customers – either in written format or verbally. You can choose the method that’s best for you and your business and the food that you serve and sell. Written details of the allergens should be clearly listed in an obvious place, such as on your menu, on a board or information pack. If it is not provided in writing for your customers to look at for themselves, you can provide this information verbally. If you do this you must do it in a way that others can check it, confirm that it is accurate and that the information given is consistent. If you choose to give the information verbally, you must also display a poster inviting your customers to ask you about allergy information. 

What do I do if my customers buy food over the telephone?

If someone rings up with a telephone order, you must provide the allergen information to them over the phone before they buy. This can be done by asking if there is anybody in the party who has a food allergy and then providing them with information about the foods which contain the allergenic ingredient. If the food is then delivered, the information on the allergic ingredients must be provided in a written format.

What do I do if my customers order their food on-line?

If your customers order on-line, you should provide the information to them in writing so that they can see whether the food that they are ordering contains any allergens. If the information is not on the website, customers need to have access to the information in some other way, for example by requesting that they ring up and speak to somebody if they have an allergy.

What do I do if a customer has not told me they have an allergy and then become ill?

Where you have made the information available in writing or verbally or on a sign that the allergy information can be requested, your customers have a responsibility to tell you that they have an allergy. Having a clear system in place, which is written down and communicated to staff will support any defence that you may need.

What should I do if a customer has an allergic reaction in my premises?

If you think that someone is having an allergic reaction, do not move the customer because this could make them worse; call 999 immediately and describe what is happening and mention anaphylaxis; ask the customer if they carry an adrenaline pen and offer to assist; stay with your customer until the ambulance arrives.

What if I don’t know if something contains an allergic ingredient when I am asked by a customer?

If someone asks you about a particular ingredient, always check every time and never guess. Check your information, that it’s up to date and any packaging that you have. If there is any uncertainty, see if you can help them choose something else. Revise and update your information to make sure that it’s complete.

Are there any other things that I should do in my business?

You need to think about reducing the risk of cross contamination during storage and preparation; take steps to control the risk of cross contamination if you are preparing foods that you declare as “allergen free”; make sure that your staff are trained and allergen aware; have a procedure for dealing with requests about allergens and make sure that your staff know about this; make sure that any changes to recipes or ingredients are reflected in your allergen information.