27 February 2014
At the end of 2014 a new European Union regulation on food labelling comes into effect in the UK.
Regulation 1169/2001 on the provision of food information to consumers, also known as the Food Information Regulation 2013, replaces the Food Labelling Regulations 1996.
The legislation aims to improve nutritional and allergy information for consumers, and help them to make informed choices. It is also expected to benefit the food industry by simplifying the law and reducing the administrative burden of previous legislation.
In summary, under the new legislation food business operators such as contract caterers will have to provide:
- Mandatory nutrition labelling on processed foods;
- More country of origin labelling of unprocessed meat from pigs, sheep, goats and poultry;
- Improved date marking (including date of first freezing);
- Better clarity and legibility of food information, for example, minimum size of text;
- Highlighting allergens such as peanuts or milk in lists of ingredients;
- Providing allergen information on food that is sold loose or non pre-packed foods in restaurants, cafés, catering outlets, deli counters, bakeries and sandwich bars.
Scope of regulation
According to guidance from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), most food business operators will be affected by the changes. Any operator supplying food to the public and to mass caterers will be affected.
Private individuals preparing and providing food for an event will not be affected, unless they are preparing the food in the course of their food business activities.
From 13 December 2016, food business operators must provide a mandatory nutrition declaration on pre-packed food.
Labels should include the energy value in kilojoules and kilocalories, and the amounts in grams of fat, saturates, carbohydrates, sugars, protein and salt.
There is no requirement to provide nutritional information on non pre-packed food, but businesses that do so may find it bolsters customer satisfaction.
For non pre-packed foods, information will need to be provided if any of the following ingredients are used: cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, eggs, fish, peanuts, soybeans, milk, nuts, celery, mustard, sesame seeds, sulphur dioxide and sulphites, lupin and molluscs and any products derived from these ingredients. The information can be supplied on the menu, on chalkboards, tickets or verbally. It must be clear and conspicuous, easily visible and legible and not hidden away.
The provider cannot simply say it does not know if a food contains an allergen, nor that the food may contain allergens. Allergen information must be specific to the food - and complete and accurate.
The regulation gives food authorities such as the UK Food Standards Agency the power to take action to ensure compliance. Action can be anything from a written warning to a fine or even prosecution for a criminal offence, depending on the severity of the breach.
Who is responsible?
The food operator whose name appears on the label takes final responsibility for the information being provided. Everyone else in the food supply chain must also take responsibility for ensuring that the information is accurate, and must not supply food that they know or believe to contravene the law. The onus is on all sections of the supply chain, but to varying degrees.
What should FMs do?
Businesses at all stages of the food chain have a responsibility under the new legislation. Facilities managers must ensure that their company is compliant. Check with your external caterer that it is aware of the requirements, and ask when they will be in compliance with them. If your caterer doesn't know about the new legislation, it might be time to find a new caterer.
If catering is delivered in-house, the facilities manager should consult with an expert contract caterer which can recommend a strategic approach to ensuring compliance.
This may include reviewing suppliers and carrying out staff training. Trading Standards, the UK's consumer protection resource, may also be able to provide advice.
Don't assume that it's someone else's problem. Take action now to ensure that your company is prepared.
The regulation became a legal document in December 2011 but only becomes fully effective on 13 December 2014. Compulsory nutrition labelling is effective on 13 December 2016.
Rules on the composition and labelling of minced meat (as lean, pure beef, containing pig meat, containing other species) apply from 1 January 2014.
Some businesses may choose to comply earlier if they are redesigning labels or packaging.
For more information on Regulation 1169/2001 click here. Defra's Food Information Regulations 2013 here.
Henry Watts is managing director of Servest Catering.