Food allergen information and labelling

19th December 2019

Regulatory and food safety lawyers are not necessarily renowned for their hearty sense of good cheer and Christmas spirit.  Whilst most people at this time of year are enjoying the many German-style Christmas markets selling sumptuous stollens and sizzling Wursts, food safety lawyers tend to focus on how such activities illustrate the challenges facing food business operators (FBOs).

Tom Walker and Gemma Casey take a look at allergen information and labelling. Allergens have been big news recently, and for good reason.  Notwithstanding Brexit, for the foreseeable future, the EU principles set out in the Provision of Food Information to Consumers (FIC) Regulation will continue to apply and, indeed, from October 2021 there will be additional labelling requirements.

The FIC Regulation currently distinguishes between prepacked and non-prepacked food in terms of food labelling requirements.  In relation to those prepacked Christmas goodies, and any other prepacked food whether in a Christmas market, a solitary stall, or in the larger retailers, any of 14 allergens listed within the FIC must be listed within the ingredients list. They must also be emphasised from the other ingredients in the list. This is most often done by using a bold typeface.

For those goodies available for eating immediately, which are not prepacked, the law only currently requires that allergen information is available. There is no requirement for the allergen information to be provided in a particular format, and so this can be done orally.

Where the intention is to provide allergen information in this way, they must somehow indicate to its consumers that allergen information is available on request. This is most often done with a sign; an example of which can be found here on the Food Standards Agency (“FSA”) website. However, it is sensible to ensure that the information passed on to consumers is clear, accurate and consistent, and preferably in writing.

As many will know, breaches of FIC bring exposure to unlimited financial criminal penalties upon conviction.

In October 2021, the law will change – and food pre-packed for direct sale (PPDS) will require full allergen information to be available.  The intention of the change is to bring the law into line with pre-packed food requirements.  However – the problem here is that consumers will find it difficult to distinguish between prepacked and PPDS, and not necessarily understand that businesses which pack food in front of the consumer will continue to be able to simply have allergen information available.

One glance at the busy Christmas market stalls, with an array of partially wrapped and unpacked products, will show you how challenging this is now, let alone how challenging it will be in 2021!  As a business though, best to get yourself in order so that you and your customers can get on with the serious business of enjoying the festive period.

If you would like more information or advice in relation to provision of allergen information, or indeed any food regulation matter, please contact our Regulatory Team.

This article has been co-written by Tom Walker and Gemma Casey

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