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New EU food rules welcomed by allergy sufferers

John Freeman

Lancashire Trading Standards Service is reminding food businesses they will be required to provide detailed information on 14 allergens they use in their ingredients from this Saturday, 13th December. 

The European Union Food Information for Consumers Regulations will apply to pre-packed or loose food. Catering outlets, deli counters, bakeries and sandwich bars will have to provide clear allergy information to customers.

There are also changes to existing legislation on labelling allergenic ingredients in pre-packed foods, but rules relating to mandatory nutritional labelling for processed food will only apply from 13th December 2016. However, the new rules do not require businesses to declare any risk of cross contamination.

Food business operators have been given three years to ensure a smooth transition towards the new labelling regime for pre-packed and non-pre-packed foods. In addition, the Regulation provides for exhaustion of stocks for foods placed on the market or labelled before 13th December 2014 (This does not include exhaustion of stocks of labels).

Rachel Wilcock from Lancashire Trading Standards Service said: "More than two million people in the UK have allergies to ingredients like eggs, fish and peanuts. These include two per cent of adults and eight per cent of children.

"In severe cases, their conditions can be life threatening and can sometimes result in death. "Food allergens cannot be removed by cooking so these new regulations will provide people with much-needed protection. To avoid falling foul of the new rules, people who work in the food industry will need to make sure they practise good kitchen hygiene, as well as careful separation, storage and labelling of ingredients when preparing food."

"European citizens will see the results of years of work to improve food labelling rules," says The EU Commissioner in charge of Health and Food Safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis. "Key content information will now be more clearly marked on labels, helping people make informed choices on the food they buy. The new rules put the consumer first by providing clearer information, and in a way that is manageable for businesses."

Coeliac UK, the national charity for people with coeliac disease, an autoimmune disease caused by a reaction to gluten, has welcomed the new EU regulations.

From Saturday, food businesses will have to make sure they provide details on the following allergens:

  • Cereals - containing gluten namely wheat (such as spelt and Khorasan wheat), barley, rye and oats
  • Crustaceans like prawns, crabs, lobster and crayfish etc.
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Peanuts
  • Soybeans
  • Milk
  • Nuts - namely almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pecan nuts, Brazil nuts, pistachio, cashew, Macadamia or Queensland nut
  • Celery
  • Mustard
  • Sesame
  • Sulphur dioxide or sulphites, often found in dried fruit and wine
  • Lupin
  • Molluscs like clams, scallops, squid, mussels, oysters and snails etc.

The Commission has been working together with businesses to ensure that the new rules will be properly implemented. Work is also underway on developing an EU database to facilitate the identification of all EU and national mandatory labelling rules in a simple way. This will offer a user-friendly tool for all food business operators and for SME's to consult. The work for the creation of the database should be carried out during 2015.

“Making sure businesses provide clear, unambiguous information to customers enables people with coeliac disease to shop and eat out safely and confidently," says Sarah Sleet, Chief Executive of Coeliac UK.

"The new regulation means people with coeliac disease will have a better understanding if food they purchase from a supermarket or order at a food venue contains gluten, which is found in wheat, barley and rye. Although the rules are a great step forward, for total peace of mind, we are encouraging all caterers and retailers to label food gluten-free to show their customers what they can eat without fear of cross contamination.

“Catering businesses will also benefit significantly as research shows people with coeliac disease – and the family and friends they eat out with – are worth a potential £100 million a year to venues willing to provide dishes labelled gluten-free. For businesses that have already taken up this option the impact on their bottom line is overwhelmingly positive”.

One in 100 people in the UK has coeliac disease, with the prevalence rising to 1 in 10 for close family members. However, current statistics show that only 24% of those with the condition are diagnosed leaving an estimated half a million people in the UK undiagnosed.

“Coeliac disease is not an allergy, but the only treatment is a lifelong gluten-free diet and left untreated may lead to osteoporosis and small bowel cancer. Although provision for those on a gluten-free diet has improved greatly over the last few years, we know many of our Members still struggle to find clear information about ingredients and this new regulation will provide greater confidence for the coeliac community,” Ms Sleet said.

"We recognise that changes like this can be daunting," says Rachel Wilcock. "Any businesses who would like advice on these matters can contact us through the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 0845 4040 506."

Full details of the new regulations are her on the European Union web site

Food Safety Magazine assesses the impact of the new rules here

• To help both the private and public catering sectors Coeliac UK have launched training courses which looks at the challenges faced by people with coeliac disease, the legal requirements associated with gluten-free labelling and how to cater for this growing need. The courses also provide attendees with the knowledge and confidence to deliver a wide range of tasty, safe gluten-free food, within the boundaries of the law.” More information can be found at: