Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland restaurants and takeaways bring in allergy laws

Nuts - almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, macadamia Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Nuts - such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts and macadamia - must be clearly marked

A new law means that restaurants and takeaways across Northern Ireland will be telling customers if food contains ingredients that could trigger allergies.

From Saturday, staff must provide information on 14 allergens including nuts, milk, gluten, soya and wheat.

The new measures cover food served in bakeries, cafes, care homes and packaged food sold by supermarkets.

People who repeatedly ignore the law will face fines.

About two million people suffer from allergies in the UK.

About 5,000 people need treatment in hospital for severe allergic reactions each year in the UK, and some cases are fatal - causing an average of 10 deaths annually.

Experts say the majority of these deaths and visits to hospital are avoidable, and some are a result of people being given incorrect information about ingredients.

Susan Monahan from north Belfast understands the very serious problems that eating out can pose.

Her eight-year-old son John is severely allergic to peanuts, nuts, sesame seeds and baked beans.

"As a family, we love to eat out - and under this new law, restaurants will be more aware of how deadly an allergic food reaction can be and how important it is to explain what's in the food they serve," she said.

"John knows how careful he needs to be and carries adrenaline with him at all times in case he inadvertently eats something he's intolerant to."

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Businesses can provide information through leaflets or through conversations

The Food Standards Agency in Northern Ireland (FSA) said the changes were good news and would make it easier for people to make safer choices when buying food.

Sharon Gilmore, FSA, said: "We have been running seminars and workshops with our colleagues and environmental health departments have worked hard to make sure all food businesses know what the new law means for them and how to prepare for it.

"The restaurants, pubs, cafes, takeaways and hotels we have spoken to want to make eating out a great experience for all their customers."

Under the new legislation (EU FIC Food Information for Consumers Regulation), customers must be told if their food contains any of the following:

  • celery - including any found in stock cubes and soup
  • cereals containing gluten - including spelt, wheat, rye, barley
  • crustaceans - eg crabs, lobster, prawns and shrimp paste
  • eggs - including food glazed with egg
  • fish
  • lupin - can be found in some types of bread, pastries, pasta
  • milk
  • molluscs - mussels, land snails, squid, also found in oyster sauce
  • mustard
  • nuts - for example almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, macadamia
  • peanuts - also found in groundnut oil
  • sesame seeds - found in some bread, houmous, tahini
  • soya - found in beancurd, edamame beans, tofu
  • sulphur dioxide - used as a preservative in dried fruit, meat products, soft drinks, vegetables, alcohol.

Businesses can choose how they give the information on allergens contained in their food - for example through conversations with customers, leaflets, food labelling or by highlighting ingredients on menus.

But if allergy advice is not clearly given, the Food Standards Agency says there need to be clear signs about where it can be obtained.

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