The Coeliac’s Guide to new Allergen Labelling

I don’t often go all ‘infomercial’ on you, but I thought it would be useful to draw your attention to the changes in food allergen labelling that are coming into force from this December, in case you haven’t seen it on the news. On the whole these should make it easier for coeliacs and other people with allergies or intolerances to shop for food and eat in any food service outlet.

The first change (which food producers have had 3 years to prepare for), is that on labels 14 of the main food allergens have to be highlighted in the list of ingredients. This could be in bold, capitals, italics, another colour or a combination of these. So you should not see labels like this any more, with the allergens in a separate part of the label:

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And instead, more like these, where the allergens are drawn attention to (e.g. in bold, capitals):

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You will still see ‘may contains’ labels if there is a cross contamination risk, and business can still say ‘gluten free’ or ‘no gluten containing ingredients’ – although these are voluntary so you should still satisfy yourself about contamination risk for any product.

If you are gluten free, it’s important to note that there is not an obligation to list ‘gluten’ as an allergen, instead the gluten-containing grain has to be highlighted. You should look out for a listing for wheat, rye, barley or oats.

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Gluten-free oats also have to be highlighted as an allergen, but if they are uncontaminated gluten free oats, the manufacturer will usually say this. The same is true for gluten free wheat starch and things like gluten free barley malt vinegar.

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The final (and perhaps most useful) change, is that the need to declare allergens doesn’t just apply to packaged goods you buy in a supermarket; but to any food service business and loose goods too. So at last, we have the backing of the law when we ask about the allergens in a dish in a restaurant – they have to provide the list, whether that’s written down or verbally. So hopefully we should see less of this kind of experience.

secret sauce

The law comes into force from the 13th December, so if you see an old label after this time, you should make them aware of the law and perhaps report them.

There are some useful factsheets and information for businesses and consumers on the FSA website.

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12 responses to “The Coeliac’s Guide to new Allergen Labelling

  1. One point to clear up. Although the decision to bring in allergen labelling in was made in the E.U three years ago, it took until June of this year before the FSA got their act together and actually informed small businesses of the timetable for its implementation. This has put an enormous amount of pressure on smaller food producers to comply in a short amount of time. For example; Torquay EHO had one advisory session only, held on the 19th November, less than a month before implementation. So, please be patient.

  2. Yes, I agree with David. Please be patient with food outlets. Many were not informed of the new legislation until recently and have had little guidance from their local authorities.
    With the increasing number of people suffering from allergenic reactions and intolerance’s, this new legislation will be a great benefit to allow customers to make an informed choice of what is safe to eat.

    • Hi Paul and David. Thanks for your comments. I didn’t know the message had taken so long to trickle down! I’m sure people will be understanding, however I have to say I am somewhat surprised that it is proving hard for people to implement- it seems baffling that there is so little knowledge about the ingredients that are in food, especially in small businesses where people are so close to the buying of ingredients and production. When the minimum requirement in food service is to be able to tell a customer orally, it surely shouldn’t be that hard?

      • Hi gfreeb,
        Whilst it is true that most small businesses DO know a lot about allergens in food, there are now 14, yes 14, different allergens which have to be taken account of. Each individual item (sandwich, pie, pasty, cooked meal etc) has to be assessed and a list of ingredients prepared to be able to reference should a customer request that information. Even the smallest café or take away has 30 to 40 separate items on its menu and lists have to be made for all of them, no small feat when they have to run their business as well. As I say, a little patience will go a long way

  3. Can I just add that this is assuming people are buying simple fresh ingredients. But take for example buying pastry, sauces etc that go into your dishes… You are then reliant on other suppliers for their allergen labelling. The food world is a complicated with so many bought in ingredients and this is going to add so much work for independents that we need to support them through it. They don’t have the armies of developers that large brands and supermarkets have. I can’t imagine having to all that digging into ingredients. I hope it doesn’t turn them against people with ‘allergies’…..

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