The European Commission may have a reputation for bonkers rules on wonky bananas and comedy carrots, but its legislation cannot be ignored when it comes to proper information about allergens in care homes’ food labelling as Claire Hunt, solicitor at Birkett Long LLP, explains.
In October 2011 the European Commission published new regulations that increased the amount of allergen information operators need to publish on both non-prepacked and prepacked food. The regulations are particularly important to care home operators, not least because allergic reactions can so much more dangerous for elderly and infirm residents.
Non-compliance with the regulations is serious. It is deemed to be a failure in public health and not only carries an unlimited fine, but is also a criminal offence.
The EU Food Information for Consumers is a set of regulations that came into force at the end of 2014 following a three year notice period that gave all operators time to prepare.
Despite the regulations being published over four years ago, many operators in the care sector were unaware of their obligations as recently as last year. A Unilever Food Solutions survey in July 2014 found that 53% of care providers had no idea about the new regulations – a significant number considering they needed to comply by the end of that year.
The British Retail Consortium and the Food and Drink Federation have already produced guidance on the new allergen labelling requirements for prepacked foods. But Care homes fall into the category of providers who serve non-prepacked food and must therefore provide detailed information on allergenic ingredients in the food they serve. This can be either in writing, for example on the menu, or verbally, such as explaining the allergens contained in each meal before taking an order.
Providers that owe a duty of care to those to whom they serve food must put in place processes to ensure the allergen information is recorded and reported in line with the new regulations, as well as be mindful of requirements in other legislation relating to adult mental capacity. For example, where the individual cannot make a safe dietary choice, the caregiver should be able to recognise that issue and give the individual food that is safe for them to eat.
Whether or not the individual has an allergy is irrelevant. The regulations state that allergen information, or the place where such information can be found, should be easily accessible, visible and legible for all to see.
The 14 allergens covered include: eggs, milk, shellfish, molluscs, fish, peanuts, sesame, soybeans, sulphur dioxide, nuts, cereals containing gluten, celery, mustard and lupin.
Care home operators are urged to seek expert advice and training if they have any concerns over their compliance to the new regulations. This advice can be accessed for free at the UK Food Standards Agency at www.food.gov.uk.