What food allergy is and what allergen information food businesses must provide to you.
Food businesses must inform you under food law if they use any of the 14 allergens as ingredients in the food and drink they provide. This list has been identified by food law as the most potent and prevalent allergens.
The 14 allergens are:
- cereals containing gluten (such as barley and oats),
- crustaceans (such as prawns, crabs and lobsters),
- molluscs (such as mussels and oysters),
- sulphur dioxide and sulphites (at a concentration of more than ten parts per million) and tree nuts (such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios and macadamia nuts).
Allergen information and labelling
Food businesses must inform customers if any products they provide contain any of the 14 allergens as an ingredient.
There are a number of ways in which allergen information can be provided to you. This can depend on the type of food you buy and the type of food business.
The 14 allergens must be emphasised within the ingredients list of pre-packed food or drink. This can be done, for example, by using bold, italic or coloured type, to make the allergen ingredients easier to spot.
Non-prepacked (loose) food
Food businesses such as a bakery, butcher, or delicatessen, must provide you with allergen information for any loose item you buy that contains any of the 14 allergens.
Food businesses can use phrases such as ‘may contain’ to inform customers that there may be small amounts of an allergen in a food product. This is sometimes known as ‘precautionary allergen labelling’.
Allergen cross-contamination can happen unintentionally when there is a risk that the allergen has entered the product accidentally during the production process. This can sometimes happen when several food products are made on the same premises.
There is no specific legal requirement to label food with ‘may contain’. However, food must be safe to eat and information to help people with allergies make safe choices, and manage their condition effectively, must be provided.
Vegan food and allergens
When you buy vegan food, you might not expect it to contain any trace amounts of milk, egg, fish, crustaceans and molluscs. However, trace amounts of cross contamination can occur when vegan food is produced in a factory or kitchen that also handles non-vegan food.
This is why packaging for some vegan products sometimes include precautionary allergen labelling such as ‘may contain’. This means the products could include traces of allergens such as milk, eggs, fish, molluscs and crustaceans, which could pose a risk.