Advice on food labelling

18 Dec 2018

Advice on food labelling

This is especially helpful if you provide food for guests that contains GM ingredients as you need to comply with genetically modified food legislation. You need to provide information to customers on 14 allergens that may be used as ingredients in any food you sell.

To allow food providers and consumers alike to make informed decisions about the food they use or eat, there are food labelling regulations in place.

The rules covering GM foods are outlined in:

  • the European Regulations (EC) No. 1829/2004, (EC) No. 1830/2004
  • the GM Food (England) Regulations 2004
  • the Genetically Modified Organisms (Traceability and Labelling) Regulations 2004 (and equivalent Regulations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland)

Do the Regulations apply to me?

No: if there are no ingredients containing, consisting of, or produced from genetically modified organisms in the food you offer to guests, the regulations do not apply to you.

Yes: if you are providing food for guests that contains ingredients containing, consisting of, or produced from genetically modified organisms, whether or not there is any GM material in the final product (e.g. oil produced from GM soya or maize), you need to comply. Any intentional use of GM must be labelled, but there is a tolerance level (of 0.9%) for the accidental inclusion of EU-authorised GM material. For further information, visit the Food Standards Agency website.

As any food bought by you to prepare food for guests should be similarly labelled for GM ingredients, you should be able to tell whether or not you need to comply.

The words 'genetically modified' or 'produced from genetically modified [name of organism]' must be displayed on a notice, menu, ticket or label which can be easily read by customers. For example:

Products on the menu marked * contain ingredients produced from genetically modified soya.

It is estimated that around 2% of the population suffer from food allergies and each year some people become seriously ill and even die from extreme reactions to foods such as peanuts, shellfish and eggs.

Under the Food Safety Act 1990 and the General Food Law Regulation 178/2002 you are responsible for ensuring that the food that customers eat is safe and the quality is what they expect. This means you should understand exactly what foods can cause problems.

The 14 most common allergens in Europe are: 

  • Cereals containing gluten, namely: wheat (such as spelt and khorasan wheat), rye, barley, oats
  • Crustaceans, for example prawns, crabs, lobster, crayfish
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Peanuts
  • Soybeans
  • Milk (including lactose)
  • Nuts; namely almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews, pecan nuts, Brazil nuts, pistachio nuts, macadamia (or Queensland) nuts
  • Celery (including celeriac)
  • Mustard
  • Sesame
  • Sulphur dioxide/sulphites, where added and at a level above 10mg/kg or 10mg/L in the finished product. This can be used as a preservative in dried fruit.
  • Lupin, which includes lupin seeds and flour and can be found in types of bread, pastries and pasta.
  • Molluscs like mussels, whelks, oysters, snails and squid. 

You are legally required to supply information on the labels of pre-packaged food when any of the 14 allergens listed above are included as an ingredient. Any use of these allergens must be highlighted in the ingredients list. This means that having notices on signs or other parts of the packaging that say, for example, “contains nuts” is not permitted.

You need to provide information to customers on any of the 14 allergens used as ingredients in foods sold without packaging or wrapped on site. This information could be written down on a chalk board or menu or provided orally by a member of staff. Where the specific allergen information is not provided upfront, clear signposting to where this information could be obtained must be provided (i.e. a note on your menu telling customers to ask a waiter regarding the use of allergens in any of the items on the menu).

It is therefore very important that your staff are trained and regularly updated on the use of any allergens in food that you serve.

These rules will only cover information about major allergens intentionally used as ingredients. They do not cover allergens present following accidental contact.

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