Allergen alert

John Silcox urges wholesalers to prepare for drastic changes in food labeling requirements

European law on food labeling is radically changing. British wholesalers must prepare themselves and their customers to answer more thorough questions about what’s in their products.

A new European Union directive has listed 14 allergens that need to be identified if they are used as ingredients in a dish. From 13 December 2014, all UK caterers will be required by law to provide allergen information about all of their products on request. This applies to every business that distributes loose food, such as supermarket food counters, delicatessens, restaurants and takeaways
– over the phone sales are also included.

Three ways to prepare:

  • Talk to suppliers: By December, wholesalers need to have received information from suppliers about the nutritional content and allergens of the products they buy. 
  • Compile data: Wholesalers should compile all this information and ensure that it is made easily available in one single source. It is particularly important for this information to be accessible for both staff and customers.
  • Tell your customers: Many smaller caterers will be unaware of the changes affecting their businesses so wholesalers play a vital role in communicating this information to customers so that they can pass it on to the general public.

According to official texts, nutritional content of food will also have to be displayed on packaging in a new order and labeling will have to follow stricter design guidelines, using bolder type and minimum font size.

Country of origin of meat and the date of first freezing are additional requirements, and although many businesses already voluntarily display much of this information, omitting any of it from December will be a punishable offence.

For wholesalers to comply, it is essential they understand the implications these regulations have on their business, but also on the business of their customers.

However James Bielby, chief executive of the Wholesalers Distributors doesn’t think this is yet the case. He told Better Wholesaling: “I think there is still a lot of confusion surrounding this new law on labeling and a frightening number of companies haven’t even heard of it, let alone started to take measures of adoption.

“For our members we will be offering as much guidance as possible and we will be publishing information on how best to prepare. We are also looking at the cheapest solutions to implement these measures because this overhaul of labeling requirements could place considerable strain on smaller companies that produce their own foodstuffs.”

Eileen Steinbock, head of Health and Nutrition at food distributor Brakes, believes wholesalers must make the right information available to their foodservice customers to help them comply. She explains: “Caterers will need to build and record an allergen profile for every recipe, putting in place protocols for keeping the database up-to-date when recipes or the menu changes. Brakes is on hand to offer support: we can produce bespoke reports of allergens for approved buying lists or regular Brakes purchases. All allergens are listed separately online and product data sheets are available through customer care.”

Wendy Duncan, research and development manager at Unilever Food Solutions agrees but offers a more overarching solution. She says: “Responsibility to adopt these new measures must be shared throughout the foodservice industry. As a food manufacturer, we need to make sure that the allergens are very clearly labeled on our products. Therefore we have created a guide online to help caterers understand how to determine what allergens can be found in their produce. Data is ultimately the key to answering this issue and I think in the future data sharing between all links of the foodservice chain will be the most effective way of providing accurate information on ingredients.”


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