Starting and running a food business

Food allergies, food intolerances and labelling

Some people have an allergy or intolerance to certain types of food. They need enough information about what they eat to help them avoid these foods.

14 main food allergens

Any type of food can cause a reaction, but some are more likely to than others. There are 14 major allergens which food businesses must declare by law when used as ingredients:

  • peanuts
  • nuts - eg almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, pecan nuts, pistachio nuts and macadamia (or Queensland) nuts
  • sesame seeds
  • eggs
  • milk
  • crustaceans - including prawns, crab and lobster
  • molluscs - including squid, mussels, cockles, whelks and snails
  • fish
  • cereals containing gluten - including wheat, rye, barley and oats
  • soya
  • lupin
  • celery
  • mustard
  • sulphur dioxide or sulphites at levels above ten milligrams per kilogram or per litre

Even a very small amount of certain foods can sometimes cause a severe reaction called anaphylaxis. This can make people very ill and in some cases can be fatal, so it's crucial and also a legal requirement that you're able to inform your customers what's in a particular dish. 

See food allergen labelling.

Inform customers of food allergens and calories

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has published a free online tool called MenuCal to help food businesses identify and inform customers of any food allergens and also calculate the number of calories present in any food they serve.

The FSA has produced guidance for businesses which covers the interpretation and application of allergen provisions (PDF, 860K) for prepacked, prepacked for direct sale and non-prepacked foods.

The FSA has produced allergy guidance and materials to assist food businesses in promoting, implementing and complying with the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation.

You can also complete the FSA's free allergen information online training course that can help food business operators and those involved in selling or producing food.

Labelling of 'gluten free' foods

You should also make sure you are familiar with the rules on labelling food containing gluten. The FSA have published guidance on the labelling of 'gluten free' foods.

The FSA has also produced best practice guidance on managing food allergens. This guidance focuses on avoiding cross-contamination and using appropriate advisory labelling, eg 'may contain peanuts'.

See more on labelling food products.