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New rules on allergy information

RESEARCH released today by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Allergy UK found that 70% of those with allergies avoid buying takeaways, due to fears about allergens and a lack of trust in the information they are given. More than half of those with allergies (53%) said they avoided eating in restaurants for the same reason. From December 13, restaurants and takeaways are required by law to tell customers if any of the top 14 allergen ingredients are present in the foods they serve. These changes will mean consumers can feel more confident when asking about allergenic ingredients when eating out in cafes and restaurants. A survey, carried out by the Food Standards Agency, found that 53% of respondents in Wales didn’t feel confident in their knowledge of ingredients related to food allergies and intolerances.

This poll also found that 7% of Welsh respondents were more likely to suffer from food intolerances than allergies. Restaurants and takeaways now have to inform their customers about 14 specific allergens that range from widely known ingredients such as nuts and milk, to less widely recognised allergens including mustard and lupin seeds, which are often used in flour. Around 2 million people in the UK suffer from allergies including 2% of adults and 8% of children. It is hoped these changes will bring about a reduction in the number of allergic reactions caused by people accidentally eating food they are allergic to.

On average 10 people die and around 5,000 are hospitalised per year in the UK due to allergic reactions. The majority of these avoidable deaths and hospitalisations are due to incorrect information being given about allergenic ingredients in foods when those with allergies are eating out – usually in a restaurant or takeaway. This is a growing issue in the UK, with hospital admissions relating to allergies rising by 87% between 2002 and 2014. However, the same study conducted by the FSA found that half of all UK adults (51%) have either limited or no knowledge at all about the ingredients that cause allergic reactions.

Food businesses such as restaurants and cafes have been given flexibility on how they provide allergy information. This can be communicated verbally through explanations by staff or signposted to where or how more information can be found on menus or through additional means. The new EU Food Information for Consumers Regulations will also change the way allergy information appears on labelling for prepacked foods bought in shops and supermarkets.

Hilary Neathey, Food Policy Adviser at the FSA in Wales told The Herald: “With a steady rise in the number of people suffering from food allergies and intolerances in the last decade, these new measures will make it simpler for those with allergies to buy and consume food. Allergies can be fatal for some people and this is why it is vital that food businesses give their customers information they can trust. “The legislation is a huge step forward for those with food allergies, who should now feel confident they have a right to ask about allergenic ingredients in the foods they buy. This normalises allergen information as something that should be available at all times. We have been working very closely with local authorities, food businesses and consumer groups to ensure that these changes are put into place.”