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Food allergy awareness


Allergies are life changing and can cause serious illness and can be fatal. Although there are no cures for food allergies, having the information to eat, order food and shop wisely can make a great difference to people suffering from food allergies. 

Food allergy is a serious and growing public health issue. There has been a dramatic increase in allergic diseases in recent years:

  • It is thought that as many as one in three of the UK population, or 21 million people, live with an allergy of some form and this number is increasing at an alarming rate. (Mintel, 2010)
  • Hospital admissions in England for allergy and anaphylaxis have risen by more than a third in the last five years.
  • On average, one person is admitted to hospital every 20 minutes, due to an allergic reaction or anaphylaxis - admissions for 2015-16 were 29,544 and in 2011-12 were 22,206 (Data from NHS Digital)

It is therefore important that food business owners, their staff and customers know what to do to make it as safe as possible for those people with allergies.

An overview of food allergy by the UK Food Standards Agency - YouTube Video

What foods cause food allergies?

The main types of food allergens which cause allergic reactions are:

  • celery
  • cereals that contain gluten - including wheat (e.g. spelt and Khorasan), rye, barley and oats
  • crustaceans - (e.g. prawns, crabs and lobsters)
  • eggs
  • fish
  • lupin
  • milk
  • molluscs - (e.g. mussels and oysters)
  • mustard
  • peanuts
  • sesame seeds
  • soybeans
  • sulphur dioxide and sulphites (if they are at a concentration of more than ten parts per million)
  • tree nuts - (e.g. almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios and macadamia nuts)

Food business responsibilities

All food handlers have a legal responsibility to ensure that the food they manufacture, sell and/or serve is safe for the consumer to eat. This is particularly true when providing food products to people with a food allergy or intolerance.

Please note: A number of useful documents that will assist you in complying with your legal requirement can be found in the downloads section.

Food allergy declaring and labelling

It is a legal requirement for food allergen information to be provided for foods sold non-packed or pre-packed for direct sale. E.g. from takeaways, restaurants, cafes and sandwich shops.

The following information provides guidance on the legal requirements when declaring and labelling allergens:

From the 1 October the requirements for FSA - Pre-Packed for Direct Sale foods (PPDS) changed. The new labelling will help protect your consumers by providing potentially life-saving allergen information on the packaging.

Any business that produces PPDS food will be required to label it with the name of the food and a full ingredients list, with allergenic ingredients emphasised within the list. More information can be found by following the links below:

FSA Explains - Prepacked for direct sale (PPDS) - YouTube Video

Allergen cross contamination

Foods may become cross contaminated with allergens during the preparation and cooking process.

This can happen by contaminated work surfaces, cooking utensils, handling of food, and 'hidden' ingredients' (e.g. in dressings, oils and sauces).

To help prevent cross contamination, it is important to carry out the following practices:

1. Food to equipment contact

Make sure food being asked about has only been in contact with equipment (e.g. spoons, mixers etc) which has been washed properly.

2. Food to food contact

Make sure food being asked about has not been in contact with the allergen or food containing the allergen (e.g. through shared storage or preparation areas).

Oil that has already been used to cook other foods should not be used to cook the food being asked about (e.g. oil used to cook prawns could cause a reaction in someone who is allergic to shellfish).

3. Food to hand contact

Make sure the food being asked about has not been in contact with the allergen on someone's unwashed hands.

For further information on food allergy advice for caterers read  Food Allergy and Intolerance Guidance for the Catering Industry (PDF) [1MB] .

Food allergen risk assessment

Our food allergen risk assessment for caterers (PDF) [1MB] provides good practice for food businesses on the points to include as part of your allergen management procedures.

It will assist you in assessing whether the controls you currently have in place are effective and if any improvements can be made when dealing with customers who have food allergies or intolerances.

Food allergy awareness training courses

Courses are a great way to make sure all food handlers have knowledge of allergens and are able to provide allergen information for all food sold.

For a list of courses delivered online and in the Preston area see Food allergy training courses.

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