Allergen information: caterers, restaurants, food stalls / vans

Allergen information: caterers, restaurants, food stalls / vans, etc

You must make allergen information available to your customers, either by giving them full allergen information or by making it clear how they can get the information (signposting). 

Full allergen information

Allergen information can be provided in writing on menus, chalkboards, notices, etc by simply listing the allergens present in the food. Alternatively, a single allergen notice specifying the allergens present in every dish is permitted, provided that it is visible to the customer prior to ordering.  

If customers must place their order at a single point (by queuing at the counter, for example) the information only needs to be visible from that point; however, if customers can order from multiple points (bar, table, etc) then the information should be presented at each point (on the menu, for example). 

The most reliable way of providing the allergen information is in writing; this should be considered best practice.  

Signposting: on the premises

'Signposting' is an instruction to the customer explaining how they can get the information. You can place a notice on display that instructs customers to speak to a member of staff if they require allergen information (to be provided verbally) - for example, 'Allergies and intolerance: please speak to a member of staff if you require information about our ingredients'.

The notice should be visible to customers where they place their order and, as above, if they can place their order from multiple locations the signposting should be displayed at each one.  

If a customer asks about allergens you must give them complete and accurate information; this is best achieved using an allergens file.  

An allergens file contains a breakdown of all the allergens that are present in every food item that you sell. You will need to check all the ingredients that are used in each item of food and list the allergens. Also check ingredient packaging / specifications as it will not always be obvious from the name of the ingredient that it contains allergens (for example, soy sauce contains wheat, Worcestershire sauce contains fish, etc) and remember to account for anything such as peanut oil used in preparing the food.  

The Food Standards Agency has produced an allergen chart for this purpose, which can be downloaded from the FSA website.    

The file should always be kept in the same place and all staff should be trained on how to use it. If asked about allergens, staff should never answer from memory or guess, they should check the file every time. Allow the customer to see the relevant page in the file if they would like to do so and let them make the decision as to whether it is safe for them to eat the food.  

If a member of staff does not have access to allergen information and is asked whether it is safe for an allergen sufferer to eat a dish, the answer must always be no; they should always tell the customer that their safety cannot be guaranteed if they were to eat the dish.

If a recipe changes you will have to check the new ingredients and make any necessary changes to the file as soon as the change is made; any delay means that customers are being given incorrect information, which may result in them becoming ill or even dying.  

Signposting: distance sales

A distance sale is any sale where there is no face-to-face interaction between the customer and the business (internet, telephone, etc).  

Allergen information must be available for distance sales.  

When ordering over a website, specific allergen information for the dish can be provided alongside its description or by signposting through a link to the full menu or an allergens breakdown.  

When ordering by telephone, the member of staff can either invite the customer to ask about allergenic ingredients (by reading out the in-store allergen statement, for example) or by telling the customer that the information is available on the website.  

If a customer asks for allergen information you should follow the advice above in relation to an allergens file.  

You must provide allergen information when the food is delivered to the customer; this may be verbally through signposting but best practice is to provide the information in writing. This can be done by providing an allergen breakdown, giving a menu that lists the allergens, or using stickers that specify what allergens are present (widely available from wholesalers).  

Always make sure that delivered foods containing allergens are kept separate from other foods to avoid cross-contamination.  

If you rely on delivery staff to provide allergen information then you are relying on them to protect your customer from harm or death. You must consider whether the person is reliable, capable of doing the job correctly, and whether they have been given the necessary training to do so.  

Allergen-free requests

You must provide accurate allergen information but you have no legal obligation to provide allergen-free food.  

If a customer requests that a dish be made without allergens you can say no. If you agree to produce the meal you have to ensure that the meal is free of the allergenic ingredient AND ensure that the food is not contaminated with the allergen in question. This means that knives, ladles, bowls, chopping blocks, work surfaces, staff clothing, hands, etc all have to be thoroughly clean so that they cannot transfer traces of the allergen to the food.

If powdered allergenic ingredients are being used it may not be possible to prevent contamination as traces of the allergen can become suspended in the air and settle on food, clothing, utensils, etc. 

If you are not completely confident that you can produce an allergen-free meal, you should refuse the request. If your customer were to suffer an allergic reaction after eating a meal you claimed was free of the allergen in question, you will be liable for criminal offences and potential civil action and, in the most extreme cases, the customer could die.  

Preventing contamination

There are certain practical steps you can take to avoid accidental contamination with allergens, which include:

  • having separate kitchen areas, chopping blocks, utensils, pans, etc for the preparation of foods containing allergens
  • thoroughly washing chopping blocks, utensils, pans, etc after they have been used to prepare meals containing allergens
  • storing ingredients and prepared foods separately in closed containers
  • keeping ingredients that contain allergens separate from other ingredients

While these precautions are relatively simple it can often be impractical to follow them, especially for small businesses where space, time and resources are limited. Where this is the case it is permissible to use a precautionary allergen statement.

Precautionary allergen statements

If, due to the nature of the business and the food that is being prepared, it is not possible to guarantee that there will be no allergen cross-contamination, you may place a notice on display to this effect - for example, 'Allergen advice: due to the way our food is prepared it is not possible to guarantee the absence of allergens in our products'.

The precautionary statement must be used in addition to the allergen information covered above and does not replace the duty to inform consumers about the presence of allergens.

The statement should be displayed at each place the consumer can place their order, in the same way as the allergen information

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