Allergen management: new requirements
By Anton Alldrick - 16 September 2013
Food allergy and food intolerance (e.g. coeliac disease) are estimated to afflict over 3 million people in the United Kingdom alone. Disease outcomes range from (at best) a restricted lifestyle to (at worst) death. Current EU legislation requires food businesses producing wrapped foods to declare the intentional presence (as ingredients, additives or process aids) of 13 foods or food groups and one additive (sulphite) considered to be significant allergens in a specified manner. This is to ensure that sensitive consumers are advised of their presence. In addition, if these foods are known to be potentially present (e.g. as a result of cross–contamination), many food businesses apply precautionary labelling ("may contain") to warn the sensitive consumer of this fact.
Food information legislation within the European Union has recently been subject to substantial revision, with a new regulation (1169/2011) being introduced. This will, in the most part, take effect from 13 December 2014. In terms of significant food allergens the law has also been changed. In particular, two new requirements will have significant consequences in terms of food safety management systems and/or staff training.
The first requirement concerns the supply of voluntary food information (Article 36). Article 36 requires (amongst other things) that, as a general principle, such information should, where appropriate, "be based on the relevant scientific data" (Paragraph 2c). Furthermore, the Commission is required to subsequently implement regulations concerning the application of precautionary labelling in terms of the unintentional presence of food–allergens (Paragraph 3a).
Substantive advice on the circumstances when precautionary labelling might be applied was published by the Food Standards Agency in 2006. Since then there have been further developments in our understanding of the risk assessment process underpinning the decision whether or not to precautionary label (e.g. the 'Action Level' concept) and Campden BRI has recently published a guidance document (No. 71) which details how these developments can be applied to implementing the Agency's advice.
The second requirement is for those selling unwrapped foods to provide the same food allergen information to their customers as currently required for wrapped foods (Article 44, paragraph 1a). Recent guidance from the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs makes it clear that while there is some latitude in how the information can be conveyed, it must be both available and accurate. The challenge for such food businesses is that they will, for the first time be required to provide information of this quality for 14 individual or groups of allergenic ingredients present in the final product. This will have substantial implications in terms of the food–safety and quality management systems (e.g. supplier quality assurance and product development) as well as staff–training (e.g. production and where such information is given verbally, knowledge and communication skills).
If you would like to discuss issues relating to allergen management or testing please get in touch.