We have received several questions about the new EU Food Information For Consumers legislation will affect Care Homes.

We hope the answers that follow will enable you to prepare for the legislation.

What Exactly Is The New EU Allergen Legislation?

On 13th December 2014, a new piece of European legislation called the Food Information for Consumers Regulation (EU/FIR1169/2011) came into force.

What Is The Background To This Legislation?

When anybody buys food from a retail outlet, by law the nutritional and allergen information is clearly printed on the label. However, when food is served to a customer in a restaurant or to a resident of a Care Home, there is currently no obligation to provide this information. 

The EU FIC will bring general and nutritional labelling together as a consolidated regulation in order to simplify the existing legislation.

How Will It Affect Me And My Business?

The legislation applies to all 'loose' food sold in restaurants, hotels and institutions, including Residential Care Homes.

From 13th December 2014, you will be required to provide a warning to your resident if any food that you serve contains one or more of the fourteen major food allergens covered by the legislation.

Will There Be A Transition Period During Which The Enforcement Officers Will  Be Lenient Towards Offenses Committed Under The Legislation?

Unfortunately not.

This legislation was adopted by the Council of the European Union on 29th September 2011 so the Industry has already had almost three years to put measures in place to comply.

In other words, you are expected to be fully compliant with the legislation on or before 13th December.

What Are The Major Allergens?

They are as follows:

Cereals containing gluten, e.g. wheat and barley
Crustaceans, e.g. lobster and crayfish
Molluscs, e.g. clams, mussels, oysters, snails and squid
Nuts, e.g. almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts
Sulphur dioxide

Isn't It Obvious When A Dish Contains One Or More Of The Allergens?

Unfortunately, no.

Of course, it is obvious when a dish on your menu contains ingredients such as eggs, milk and fish. However, many of the allergens are hidden where you may least expect to find them so it is essential that you are familiar with the constituents of EVERY ingredient used in your kitchen.

Here are just a few examples of hidden allergens:

Worcester Sauce; usually contains anchovies
Red/White Wine; egg white, milk protein or collagen derived from fish, are often used in the fining process; sulphur dioxide is a common preservative
Curry Sauces; contain ghee, which is a type of clarified butter
Fresh Pasta; egg is frequently the liquid content
Pesto Sauce; often contains tree nuts and/or peanuts
1000 Island Salad Dressing (e.g. Helmann's); contains egg and mustard
Gravy Granules (e.g. Bisto) contains celery; soybean and gluten (wheat)
Hummus; contains sesame
Batter Mix, for example, 3663 Golden Batter Mix; contains soybean
Lupin is used as a flour in pies, pasta, batter mix, etc.

In addition, soybeans, nuts, gluten and milk products are contained in many commercial baking mixes, biscuits, ice creams, processed meats, sauces, etc.

Surely A Tiny Amount Of An Allergen Won't Hurt, Will It?

In two recent studies, more than 20% of kitchen staff who responded thought that it would be OK for a resident with an allergy to eat a 'small amount' of the food in question. This is completely wrong.

Unfortunately, when it comes to allergies, kitchen staff can be well-meaning but are generally uninformed. Almost 40% were under the impression that a glass of water would be sufficient to alleviate an allergic reaction. It isn't.

Therefore, it is essential that you arm your staff with the information that they will need in order to protect you and your customers.

What Could Happen If I Served My Resident Food Containing Ingredients To Which They Are Allergic?

In a susceptible person, exposure to even a tiny amount of a specific allergen can trigger anaphylactic shock. Quite understandably, caterers often don't realise how serious this condition can be.

Symptoms include:

Swelling in the face, throat or mouth
Difficulty breathing
Sudden drop in blood pressure
Skin rash
Nausea and anxiety

In rare cases, anaphylaxis can be life threatening. Clearly, you do not want to find yourself in the position of having previously informed a susceptible diner that their chosen dish was allergen free.

What About Damage To The Reputation Of My Home?

As well as the financial penalties that you will suffer if you are successfully prosecuted, your reputation will also take a serious hit because the implication will be that you are not concerned about the welfare of your resident.

Of course, this not likely to be true in your case. However, public perception is everything and there is no shortage of people who will gleefully spread the word.

How Must I Make Allergen Information Available To My Residents?

The information can be supplied on the menu, on chalk boards or provided verbally by a member of staff. However, if the information is provided verbally, it must be backed up in writing at a resident's request in a form that is clear and conspicuous, easily visible and legible.

Supposing I Don't Know Whether Or Not The Food I Serve Contains Allergens?

It will no longer be acceptable for you to say that they do not know whether or not a food contains one of the allergens nor will it be sufficient for you to say that anything on your menu 'may' contain allergens. Allergen information must be specific to the food being served and it must accurate and unambiguous.

Is The New Legislation Going To Be Actively Enforced?

Yes. It will be the responsibility of Trading Standards officers to enforce the legislation. Non-compliance will be a criminal offence and may lead to prosecution and a fine of up to £5,000.

As well as the financial penalties, there could be a serious risk of damage to the reputation of your Care Home.

The Chances Of My Home Being Inspected Are Pretty Low, Right?

It is true that you may not be inspected in the near future but it is only a matter of time.

Furthermore, you may also be at risk from whistleblowers.

If you have a disaffected worker on your payroll, you run the very real risk of being reported for non-compliance with the legislation.

Whistleblowing is often used as a tool of revenge against employers and is actively encouraged by Government agencies.

If you are in any doubt, take a look at the www.pcaw.org.uk home page, which states:

Public Concern at Work, the whistleblowing charity, is the leading authority in the field. We aim to protect society by encouraging workplace whistleblowing

Don't make yourself an easy target for disgruntled staff.

How Many Of My Residents Are Susceptible To Allergies Anyway?

Allergy UK states that 2% of UK adults have been diagnosed with a specific food allergy and an estimated 45% of the population suffers from some kind of food intolerance. These figures are growing as allergies of all kinds are on the increase.

Will This Be The End To Allergen Legislation?

No. It is expected that the list of allergens will be systematically re-examined and updated where necessary on the basis of the most recent scientific knowledge.

How Can I Comply With The Legislation

MenuAnalyser can provide you will all the support that you will need in order to comply with the legislation.

To discuss how I can help your staff to improve your resident's well-being, call me on 0800-0209173 or click here to send me a message.

Call us today to discover how we can help you and your Care Home.

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