With all the talk of Brexit from the EU there has been a lot of speculation in regard to the EU regulations specifically for Caterers in relation to the FIR food labelling regulations. I recently spoke with David Pickering, Trading Standards Team Leader at Bucks County Council and Joint Lead Officer for Food and Nutrition for the Chartered Trading Standards Institute. David has confirmed that food businesses should be aware that “it is business as usual” and that there will be no immediate changes in the foreseeable future.
The appropriate local enforcement officers responsible for this regulation within your local council will still be reviewing your labelling and allergy information procedures when you have your next check, or could visit when a complaint has been received.
It has been highlighted on social media that some business when asked for allergy information in the last few weeks, have turned around and stated “now we are out of the EU we will not have to provide this information in the future” this type of communication from staff can cause negativity across the FreeFrom community and customers may walk out of your door or feel uneasy about the food and service being provided to them.
David clarified that currently the UK regulation for the FIR 1169/2011 refers to articles within the EU regulation, this was done previously to ensure that the content was not misinterpreted in translation. Going forward the UK will need to transpose the relevant articles across to the UK regulation, again this could take up to 2 years, but in the meantime the UK law as it stands will be in force.
The catering industry has taken great leaps to provide information for the food allergy customer and I for one would hate to see this be taken away, as will the FreeFrom community, who have gained confidence in the law and started to feel safe when dining out. I do not want to see any future deaths like the Paul Wilson case highlighted recently – caused by giving false or inaccurate information so I would ask you as caterers to communicate positive communication to your staff when discussing the FIR food labelling regulations to the FreeFrom customer.
Changes to Gluten free labelling
Update as of 11 July 2016:
FSA representative Nader Mazhar has stated on the 11 July 2016, that it is the FSA’s view that positive list headings or menu titles with NGCI in their title are acceptable. This is because NGCI is used to describe a range of products instead of a particular one or a specific dish, where it would not be acceptable.
As from the 20 July the term No Gluten Containing Ingredients NGCI will no longer be a valid term to be used on menu’s for individual dishes. We caught up with a spokesperson from the FSA and asked how this will affect food service businesses going forward, here are the responses to the questions we put forward.
What changes are being made to the FIR regulations in regard to gluten free labelling? How will this affect food service business?
The EU gluten labelling rules in EU Regulation 828/ 2014 will not change how you provide gluten free foods, but will change how the breaches in these rules are enforced by food authorities in relation to prepacked foods and the food service sector. In England the EU rules will be governed by national measures in a separate piece of legislation outside from the Food Information Regulation, which is currently being prepared along with plans for an FSA public consultation on this.
Will there be a grace period for businesses to comply?
The FSA will be speaking to key stakeholders and food enforcement officers to agree on a reasonable and practical informal transition period or “period of indulgence”, allowing businesses to continue using labelling with “no gluten containing ingredients” or NGCI after the EU gluten rules take effect on 20 July. This period of indulgence would only apply to foods supplied within the UK market. The use of NGCI in products exported to outside of the UK will be subjected to rules of the country receiving the foodstuff.
Nevertheless, we advise businesses using NGCI in their marketing or products to contact their local authority food officer to discuss a suitable approach to make necessary changes taking into account, the manufacturing cycle or menu print runs.
Previously NGCI was used to describe foods which naturally do not contain gluten, how would you advise food business to describe this going forward?
NGCI has been used as a factual statement when foods did not contain gluten in their ingredients but without the guarantee of being gluten free or guaranteed suitable for those with coeliac disease. This could have been due to the possibility of gluten unavoidable cross contamination in the food.
Recent feedback to the FSA suggests that the phasing out of NGCI could be a challenge for the catering sector or non-prepacked foods. Going forward we advise and remind those businesses to keep their allergen information fully up to date and readily available. This information can be presented in allergen charts or matrix and decisions on suitable foods can be made from this.
The FSA has a tools to enable businesses to record allergen ingredients information on its website
We also further encourage coeliac and gluten intolerant consumers to always check with the business, when deciding whether food that’s offered is safe for them to eat.
It’s clear that under EU Regulation 828/ 2014, the phrase NGCI and similar factual statements, cannot be used in any food labelling or information. When marketing foods suitable for those with an intolerance to gluten can only use “gluten free” or “very low gluten”.
Can you suggest alternative methods for businesses to describe this?
As explained above, we encourage businesses and food allergic or intolerant consumers to speak to each other when selecting suitable meals when eating out. This is so consumers exactly know what’s safe for them to eat and businesses can attract more customers.
When using the NGCI term previously did it take into account cross contamination risks (Which is the main concern for food businesses) or was it just based on the food content?
Where allergen cross contamination is likely we would always encourage that it is controlled. Previously NGCI was a term businesses could use if they could not guarantee certain products were gluten free after taking steps to minimise cross contamination.
There are many terms being used to describe gluten free which business are using to opt out of the 20ppm limit – ‘Free of gluten’ ‘Low gluten’ ‘gluten sensitive’ ‘gluten intolerance menu’ ‘gluten intolerance choices’ How do these stand up when serving the coeliac customer?
When it comes to labelling specific products, only the terms “gluten free” and “very low gluten” as well as the accompanying statements as explained in Article 3 of EU Regulation 828/ 2014 are permitted. It’s our view though that titles such as “gluten intolerance menu”, used to describe a range of products, would be acceptable.
If using the terms “suitable for people intolerant to gluten” or “suitable for coeliacs”, as per article 3 would this still be clarified as gluten free?
Under the Regulation those terms can be used to accompany “gluten free” as supporting information in the labelling but cannot be used without “gluten free”.
If using the supporting information “specifically formulated for people intolerant to gluten” or “specifically formulated for coeliacs” is used where food has been specially produced, prepared and/or processed to, will business need to show due diligence in the preparation methods as well as the contents of the ingredients? Is this also considered a factual statement
There are specific conditions which must be considered if the business chooses to use those statements in addition to “gluten free”, which are: (a) if the food is made to reduce the gluten content of one or more gluten containing ingredients; or (b) if the food is made with substitutes to gluten-containing ingredients with ones which are naturally free of gluten. That said, we would expect the business to show strong due diligence over preparation and ingredients as they should anyway under General Food Law.
Would the FSA like to see more menu’s covering all 14 allergens and not singling out gluten? For example dairy allergies, lactose intolerance can affect a higher % of the UK population than gluten (YouGov 2014)
Every customer has the right to obtain clear information about any of the 14 regulatory allergens when used as ingredients in the food that’s offered to them by businesses. This means taking into account customers with different allergies and intolerances, in relation to all 14 allergens, and making the information they require easily accessible. Having specific menus can be helpful to tailor to the needs of those with allergies and intolerances but in some cases can be hard to manage and update.
If the UK comes out of the EU would it affect how the UK have adopted the FIR regulations – could there be any changes?
As the Prime Minister has said nothing changes overnight. We remain subject to EU legislation until we have left the EU. Overall policy responsibility for The Food Information Regulations lies with Defra. The FSA will continue with its responsibility in making sure food is safe and consumers have the right information to make safe food choices.
Why was it decided to remove NGCI for the GF labelling regulations
The removal of NGCI results from EU Regulation 828/ 2014, which focuses on making food information clearer for people with coeliac disease. This means that only two phrases can be used to indicate foods suitable for those with gluten intolerance or coeliac disease. This followed negotiations involving all EU Member States, however in most of those states NGCI isn’t commonly used.
May contains is not currently part of the FIR, however would you consider it good practice to highlight ‘May contains‘ in regards to ingredients from suppliers and ‘May contains’ within the method of preparation and cooking after an audit of company practices.
While “May contain” information isn’t currently covered by FIR it’s worth remembering that ‘all businesses are legally obliged to provide safe food’. General Food Law states that food should not be injurious to health and that information is provided to prevent adverse health effects.
At the same time, “May contain” information should not be misleading and restrictive where there is no risk. It’s therefore very important that businesses carry out risk assessments to inform this approach. This includes businesses having suitable measures to minimise allergen cross contamination, and speaking to their suppliers about “May Contain” information they receive from them on ingredients. If a real risk to the consumer is identified, then this information should be passed to the final customer.
To assist businesses set up appropriate allergen management processes, in 2006 the FSA published the following guidance
Alternative menu labelling options
If you are looking for an alternative method of highlighting the allergen information on your menu we would recommend taking a look at ‘Free my Menu’ it is a good option in place of the NGCI labelling for gluten, the tool can be placed on the businesses home ‘menu page’ a statement/policy is good practice stating ‘May contains’ are due to suppliers, however we have the following allergens on site…. however, we have strict cross contamination procedures……
The tool enables customers to see a menu which does not contain the ingredients (allergens) they have selected – we are working with the company to include a may contains selection separate to the current contains so diners can decide for themselves. The great thing about the tool is it incorporates all 14 allergens, or a combination of the 14 allergens and not just gluten free, and it could add other allergens as appropriate going forward.
The Rain Forest Cafe and Tunnel House Inn are two examples of the menu in use – it can also be compatible with some software and could update automatically (this is subject to review for ind software packages) Click here to see a pdf version of menu which does not contain Gluten & Milk
Speak to us today to see how we can assist with auditing and reviewing your menu and to get an introductory discount for the ‘Free My Menu’ tool, 4/5 menus we review have at least 1 error or more on their allergen charts? Let us sanity check your menu call us on 07732637292