I don’t often go all ‘infomercial’ on you, but I thought it would be useful to draw your attention to the changes in food allergen labelling that are coming into force from this December, in case you haven’t seen it on the news. On the whole these should make it easier for coeliacs and other people with allergies or intolerances to shop for food and eat in any food service outlet.
The first change (which food producers have had 3 years to prepare for), is that on labels 14 of the main food allergens have to be highlighted in the list of ingredients. This could be in bold, capitals, italics, another colour or a combination of these. So you should not see labels like this any more, with the allergens in a separate part of the label:
And instead, more like these, where the allergens are drawn attention to (e.g. in bold, capitals):
You will still see ‘may contains’ labels if there is a cross contamination risk, and business can still say ‘gluten free’ or ‘no gluten containing ingredients’ – although these are voluntary so you should still satisfy yourself about contamination risk for any product.
If you are gluten free, it’s important to note that there is not an obligation to list ‘gluten’ as an allergen, instead the gluten-containing grain has to be highlighted. You should look out for a listing for wheat, rye, barley or oats.
Gluten-free oats also have to be highlighted as an allergen, but if they are uncontaminated gluten free oats, the manufacturer will usually say this. The same is true for gluten free wheat starch and things like gluten free barley malt vinegar.
The final (and perhaps most useful) change, is that the need to declare allergens doesn’t just apply to packaged goods you buy in a supermarket; but to any food service business and loose goods too. So at last, we have the backing of the law when we ask about the allergens in a dish in a restaurant – they have to provide the list, whether that’s written down or verbally. So hopefully we should see less of this kind of experience.
The law comes into force from the 13th December, so if you see an old label after this time, you should make them aware of the law and perhaps report them.
There are some useful factsheets and information for businesses and consumers on the FSA website.