Reactions caused by food allergies are a major concern for food preparation, catering, retail and hospitality businesses. Unlabelled food that contains food allergens can be fatal when consumed, as the death of teenager Natasha Ednan-Laperouse in 2016 illustrates.
Natasha died of anaphylaxis after eating sesame in a takeaway baguette purchased at Heathrow Airport. Her death resulted in ‘Natasha’s Law‘, which ensures food businesses must include full ingredients on pre-packaged food, including food allergens.
Allergen labelling isn’t just reserved for pre-packaged food. The Food Information Regulation 2014 requires that food businesses provide accurate information about allergenic ingredients in all food they produce, process, provide or sell.
The regulations require that any of the 14 food allergens must be included on nutritional labels or in information such as menus. The information should detail the allergens used, and these should be clearly highlighted when listed alongside other ingredients, such as by using bold type or underlining allergens. Labelling should include substances produced or derived from allergens or used in processing the food.
Every year thousands of people suffer illness as a result of food allergens. Our food allergy awareness and online food hygiene course provides fundamental training for food handlers working in catering and other environments where food is prepared, cooked and handled.
What is a food allergen?
An allergen is a substance that causes an allergic reaction in humans or animals.
Allergens take various forms, such as cosmetics and medications, to biological allergens such as moulds, mites and pollen. Food is the largest category of allergens and covers a range of foods, from shellfish to nuts.
Allergic reactions can vary from extremely mild to fatal, with reactions including hives, rashes, respiratory symptoms, anaphylaxis, vomiting, cramps, swelling and headache. Small amounts of sesame consumed by someone with a sesame allergy, for example, can result in skin, gastrointestinal and respiratory reactions that may trigger a fatal anaphylactic response.
Why label the 14 food allergens?
Labelling the 14 food allergens ensures that customers, employees and others can clearly understand which foods contain allergens. All food handlers – including food preparation employees, managers, supervisors and service employees such as waiters – need to understand that food they prepare, sell or serve is safe for customers with allergies or food intolerances.
The UK has some of the highest rates of allergic conditions in the world. According to the Food Standards Agency, around 2% of adults and up to 8% of children have a food allergy. An estimated 44% of British adults suffer from at least one allergy, according to Allergy UK.
The Food Standards Agency has further guidance on how to label food correctly and display allergen information.
14 food allergens to label
Food businesses must label the 14 major food allergens clearly on all food by law. The Foods Standards Agency recommends allergy training for all employees and those involved with the processing, manufacture and supply of food.
This includes pre-packaged foods such as sandwiches, food products such as crisps, cereals and ready meals, and restaurant or takeaway food. Allergen information should be available to all employees involved in food preparation or those who come into contact with food. Regulations apply to all places that supply food, such as canteens, takeaways, restaurants, events or food supplied as part of bed and breakfast accommodation.
Here are the 14 major food allergens you should ensure are clearly labelled on any food.
Celery stalks, leaves, seeds and the root – known as celeriac – are all potential allergens. Celery is used as an ingredient for a wide range of dishes and can be found in salads, soups, meat products, ready meals, stock cubes and celery salt.
Cereals containing gluten
Gluten is a major source of food intolerance and can result in a serious allergic reaction. Gluten-containing cereals include barley, oats, rye and wheat, including Spelt and Kamut. Cereals are a staple ingredient in many dishes and food products containing flour, including cakes, pasta, bread, batter, baking powders, pastry and foods dusted with flour.
Shellfish such as crab, lobster, prawns and scampi are types of crustaceans that can result in an allergic reaction. As well as shellfish dishes, crustaceans are often used as sauces and pastes in various foods, such as curries or salads.
Eggs are typically used in cakes, meat products, mayonnaise, mousses, pasta, quiche, sauces and pastries. Some foods are also brushed or glazed with egg, such as baking and pastry products.
Pieces of fish or any dishes made from fish pose an allergy risk. Fish can also be found in relishes, salad dressings, Worcestershire sauce, stock cubes and are sometimes used to top pizzas.
The seeds of lupin flowers are crushed to make flour and can be used in bread, pastries and pasta.
Milk is a common food allergen. It is an ingredient in butter, cheese, cream, yoghurt, powdered soups and sauces. It can also be found in foods that have been brushed or glazed with milk.
This includes mussels, snails, squid and whelks. These can frequently be sold as mollusc dishes, such as steamed mussels in a sauce, or as an ingredient in fish stews and sauces such as oyster sauce.
This includes liquid mustard, mustard powder and mustard seeds. Mustard can also be found in bread products, curries, marinades, meat products, salad dressings, sauces and soups.
This includes all nuts that grow on trees, such as cashews, hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios, pecans, walnuts and macadamia. Nuts can be found in bread products, crackers, desserts, marzipan, biscuits, sauces, oils, nut powders (often used in Asian curries), stir-fried dishes and ice cream.
Peanuts are actually legumes and are part of the bean family. As they grow underground, they are also known as groundnuts. They are often used as an ingredient in biscuits, cakes, curries, desserts, sauces (such as satay sauce), and groundnut oil and peanut flour.
These seeds can be found in bread (most commonly sprinkled on hamburger buns, for example) as well as breadsticks, houmous, sesame oil and tahini. They are sometimes toasted and used in salads.
This can be found in bean curd, edamame beans, miso paste, textured soya protein, soya flour or tofu. It’s often found in desserts, ice cream, meat products, sauces and vegetarian/vegan products.
Sulphur dioxide (sometimes known as sulphites)
Frequently used as a preservative for dried fruit products such as raisins, apricots, and prunes. They can also be found in soft drinks, meat products, vegetables, and wine and beer. If you have asthma, you have a greater risk of developing a reaction to sulphur dioxide.
Ensure your employees are aware of the risks presented by the 14 food allergens with our food allergy awareness and online food hygiene course, including how to recognise food safety hazards and the importance of food temperature control.