The danger of hidden allergens

Nutritionist and founder of MenuAnalyser Teresa Dupay takes a look at new food allergen regulations


Currently in the UK, you are under no legal obligation to provide information about the nutritional content or the presence of potential allergens in the food that you serve to your customers.

However, this will change from 13 December 2014 when a new piece of European legislation called the Food Information for Consumers Regulation (EU/FIR (1169/2011) comes into force.

From December 2014, you will be required to provide a warning to your customers if any dish on your menu contains one or more of the fourteen major allergens covered by the legislation.

In brief, the fourteen allergens are gluten, crustaceans, molluscs, fish, peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, soybeans, milk, celery, mustard, sesame, lupin and sulphur dioxide.

Of course, it is obvious when a dish on your menu contains ingredients such as egg, milk and fish. However, many of the allergens are hidden where you may least expect 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:

  • 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. Hellmann’s) contains egg and mustard
  • Gravy granules; (e.g. Bisto) contains celery, soybean and cereals containing gluten wheat
  • Hummus; contains sesame
  • Batter mix; (e.g. 3663 Golden Batter Mix) contains soybean

This new regulation specifically addresses non-pre-packed foods. For example:

  • Foods sold loose, e.g. market stalls
  • Foods sold retail without pre-packaging, e.g. bakeries, deli counters, sandwich bars
  • Restaurants and cafes
  • Institutional catering, schools, hospitals

The necessary information can be written for each item listed on menus or blackboards, e.g. this dish contains peanuts and milk. You will also need to have a notice on the menu or blackboard saying that ‘allergy information is available from staff’.

You may decide to inform your customers about specific dishes that contain, e.g. fish and molluscs, verbally.

Saying that you do not know if an allergenic food ingredient is present, will no longer be allowed.

You will also not be able to communicate that foods ‘may contain’ allergenic ingredients. You will have to say ‘they contain’.

My advice to any catering outlet big or small would be to make sure that your waiting staff are aware of your complete menu and the contents of each dish on the menu.

Be confident in what you provide to your customers, they will value your time and effort that you put into your dishes and will come back to you time and time again.

Some key questions that you need to think about

  • Which ingredients do you use in a dish?
  • Do you know what allergy information is provided on ingredients that you buy in?
  • How are you going to make sure that your staff are able to provide accurate and consistent allergen information?

This new regulation is fantastic news for the customer as they will be able make more informed choices when not only shopping in supermarkets but when eating out in restaurants, pubs and cafes.

This is excellent news for anyone serving food, as you will be able to attract a huge amount of new customers who have not been able to eat out until now. It’s estimated that there are around two million people in the UK whose food choices are dictated by their allergy or intolerance to food. In a recent survey conducted by the Coeliac UK said that 74% of their members would eat out at least once very two weeks if they could be confident of a gluten-free meal. This equates to an estimated £100m per annum extra turnover.

These new customers have wanted to be able to eat out with their families and friends but have not dared to for fear of having a reaction to a specific type of ingredient.


Teresa Dupay Dip ION is a nutritionist and founder of MenuAnalyser