May contain nuts – Changes to the rules on food labelling
New rules on food labelling are being brought in by the EU Food Information for Consumers (EU FIC) Regulation No. 1169/2011. The main objective of the EU FIC is to enable consumers to make balanced and healthier dietary choices. In order to achieve this, the EU FIC will require pre-packaged food to be labelled with its energy value and the quantities of fat, saturates, carbohydrates, protein, sugars and salt it contains.
Many readers will already be aware of this legislation, but as a key date is fast approaching it is good to remind ourselves of the changes the legislation will impose. The application dates are as follows:
- 13 December 2014 – From this date the general labelling and nutrition declaration (where applicable) must use the format set out in the EU FIC.
- 13 December 2016 – From this date the inclusion of a nutrition declaration will be mandatory for most pre-packaged foods.
The EU FIC lists fourteen major allergens which, from 13 December 2014, will need to be emphasised within the ingredients list. These allergens are:
- cereals containing gluten (such as wheat (including spelt and khorasan), rye, barley and oats and their hybridised strains)
- crustaceans (for example prawns, crab and lobster)
- nuts (namely almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pecan nuts, Brazil nuts, pistachio nuts, cashew, macadamia nuts or Queensland nuts)
- celery (including celeriac)
- sulphur dioxide/sulphites (preservatives used in some foods and drinks) at levels above 10mg per kg or per litre
- molluscs (for example clams, mussels, whelks, oysters, snails and squid)
The method for emphasising the allergen in the ingredients list can be done by listing them in bold or contrasting colours or underlining.
INGREDIENTS: Water, Carrots, Onions, Red Lentils (4.5%) Potatoes, Cauliflower, Leeks, Peas, Cornflour, Wheatflour, Salt, Cream, Yeast Extract, Concentrated Tomato Paste, Garlic, Sugar, Celery Seed, Vegetable Oil, Herbs and Spice, White Pepper, Parsley
INGREDIENTS: Water, Carrots, Onions, Red Lentils (4.5%) Potatoes, Cauliflower, Leeks, Peas, Cornflour, Wheatflour, Salt, Cream, Yeast Extract, Concentrated Tomato Paste, Garlic, Sugar, Celery Seed, Sunflower Oil, Herbs and Spice, White Pepper, Parsley.
Manufacturers may also decide to use an allergy advice statement on the product label to explain how allergens are emphasised within the ingredients list, for example:
‘Allergy Advice: for allergens, see ingredients in underlined bold’
The EU FIC is quite prescriptive in relation to how allergens are emphasised. For example, allergens need to be printed on the label in such a way as to ensure clear legibility, in characters using a font size where the x-height is equal to or greater than 1.2 mm.
It is important to remember that the previously voluntary use of allergen statements such as ‘Contains: milk and nuts’ to repeat allergen ingredient information already given in the ingredients list will no longer be allowed. All information about allergenic ingredients must be in a single place – the ingredients list.
If you sell pre-packaged foods online you will need to provide the same level of information on your website as when food is bought from a retail shop. The allergen information needs to be made available at the point of purchase and upon delivery.
Advice for Restaurant and Café Owners
Currently, foods purchased without packaging in supermarkets, delis, cafés and restaurants, don’t have to provide information about food allergens. From 13 December 2014, information on the fourteen allergens will need to be provided for foods sold without packaging or wrapped on site.
This information could be provided orally by a member of staff or written down on a chalk board or chart. Where specific allergen information is not provided upfront, there needs to be clear signposting to where the information could be obtained.
‘Cross contamination’ is often the biggest worry for manufacturers and food service providers. Sometimes traces of allergens can get into products unintentionally during the manufacturing process or during food preparation. By following these practical steps you can reduce the risks:
- Educate your staff. All staff handling ingredients, equipment, utensils and packaging should be aware of situations in which foods can be cross-contaminated.
- Have separate production facilities or make the food containing the allergenic food on a separate day, or at the end of the day.
- Where possible, store allergenic ingredients away from other ingredients. Maybe seal them in plastic bins that are colour coded.
- Keep clean. Small amounts of some allergens, such as nuts, can cause severe allergic reactions in sensitive people. It is important to clean thoroughly to avoid the risk of cross contamination.
- Ensure correct labels are applied to products so that accurate information is provided to allergic consumers.
Some products, such as tinned or dried food, have a long shelf life. It is possible that when you are doing your own food shopping you will see both types of labelling being used on these types of products for a couple of years after December 2014. The EU FIC does not require manufacturers to recall products but you need to ensure all new products have the correct labelling.