Warning: May contain nuts (or eggs, or milk, or fish, or soya, or mustard + 8 more)

13 December 2014 signals the dawn of a very new challenge for the food service industry. A mere four weeks away, and right in the middle of the run up to Christmas, it will become a legal requirement (under the EU Regulation on the Provision of Food Information to Consumers (1169/2011) (FIC)) for every food service business to ensure that customers are informed, before a transaction takes place, if products purchased (non-packed or pre-packed) contain certain allergens.

What are the allergens?

The following 14 allergens are listed in FIC and therefore must be highlighted: 

- Nuts - Peanuts
- Eggs - Milk
- Fish - Soya
- Cereals containing gluten - Celery
- Crustaceans - Lupin
- Molluscs - Mustard
- Sesame Seeds - Sulphur Dioxide (sulphites)

How can businesses in the food industry comply?

FIC does not specify how to comply with the rules, just that customers need to be informed. This is both good – in that any option is possible, and bad – in that sometimes specific requirements stating exactly what must be done are preferred.

Adapting to the new requirements will be straight forward for some businesses. For example, restaurants with set menus which change once every few months will be able to simply add the relevant notations onto their menus. Restaurants operating in a more dynamic environment will not find adapting to the changes as straight forward. For example, if they have a daily menu, regularly change suppliers, sell alcohol, or rely on agency staff, they will see a range of practical challenges come into focus.

Below, we suggest four simple steps that every food business should consider now to assist with compliance before December.

1. Identify your allergens

There are two key stages here. The first is to work your way through your dishes and ingredients and identify all the allergens.

The second stage is to record what has been identified in a way that can be easily used as a reference for your staff. Many are adopting an allergen matrix as a simple way to do this, some are introducing a more in depth product file capturing this information, and others are using intranet or app based options to host this information.

2. Check your contracts

Do your contracts require your suppliers to notify you of any allergens in the products that they supply? Are they permitted to substitute ingredients supplied for a similar one?

3. Consider how to communicate to consumers

Do you have a menu? Can you put the information about the particular allergens against the particular products? If so that is the easiest way to address it. If not, it is permitted to use signage to communicate that the products contain allergens and the consumer should ask for more information. This approach needs to be supplemented by a system that allows the staff asked to firstly know what to do, and secondly have access to the necessary and up to date information.

4. Staff training

The training does not need to be incredibly long or detailed, but it does need to be practical and enable you to have the confidence that this issue has been managed. Human error is the most likely way that this will fall down. Challenge yourself:

  • If asked “does this contain allergen x?” are you confident that your staff know where to find this information and will deal with it properly? Can you prove that they are trained and competent, particularly in relation to situations where there is a regularly changing menu?
  • If your process requires the staff to ask a manager, are they competent and equipped with the answers? Do your chefs know the importance of allergens and that they must flag any additional allergens that they decide to be “creative” with?
  • Are agency, temporary or casual staff trained and competent so that you can be satisfied that the risk is managed?

Any more questions?

If you have any further questions about how the new regulations may affect your business, please have a look at DWF’s interactive menu tool.

Looking forward

There are in the region of three million people in the UK with food allergies. The consequences for businesses who get food allergy labelling wrong are significant and often life threatening. For this reason, the only criminal offence for failing to comply with the requirements of FIC is in relation to allergens.

While we are likely to see a relatively soft touch of enforcement for the first few months in which FIC is in force, this is an issue that food service can’t afford to miss.

To help you prepare, DWF has produced interactive labels showing some of key changes and how the new laws may impact you.  As always the devil is in the detail of the Regulations, they need to be reviewed fully to determine how the changes actually impact your product. Find out more >

Author: Grainne McNamee 

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.

Understand the new Food Information Regulations

Understand the new Food Information Regulations In December 2014, new EU laws will come into force which will require all food businesses to change the labels that apply to their foods. DWF has produced interactive labels showing some of key changes and how the new laws may impact you.

Discover how DWF can help you

Dominic Watkins

Partner - Head of Food Group

I am Head of DWF’s internationally renowned food sector group as well as being Head of Regulatory in London.

Hilary Ross

Executive Partner (London) - Head of Retail, Food & Hospitality

Recognised by The Lawyer as one of the UK’s Top 100 lawyers, I advise clients on compliance and challenges across the EU in relation to products, systems and safety.

Anne Marie Taylor

Senior Solicitor


Paul Attwood


I advise on a full range of commercial legal agreements, including agency, distribution, logistics, outsourcing, IT, licensing and co-packing arrangements. I also advise on aspects of intellectual property law and competition law.