Today new EU rules on displaying allergen information for all food and drink will come into force. It means publicans must tell customers who ask, either in writing or verbally, if a menu item contains traces of any of 14 different allergens.
Licensees who fail to provide the correct information could face unlimited fines, and enforcement will be down to each local authority’s trading standards team.
However, David Pickering, joint lead officer for food and nutrition at the Trading Standards Institute, made clear that officers will work with businesses to achieve compliance in a “proportionate and graduated way”.
Leading industry figures said in most cases they expect licensees that aren’t completely allergen savvy by 13 December to get light-touch enforcement due to the complexity of the regulations and the late publication of guidance from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
Steve Livens, policy manager at the British Beer & Pub Association, said leniency has been encouraged by both of the bodies.
“In most cases, I would imagine that non-compliance will initially be dealt with via improvement notices rather than a fine, although this will ultimately be the potential outcome for incorrect or missing allergen information,” he said.
He added that he expects trading standards officers to use a variety of methods, depending on the type of business, when monitoring compliance.
“In most cases where non pre-packed foods are being sold, ie, for pubs, I would envisage the approach taken would involve ensuring that the correct signage is in place and visible and that information can be provided if requested.
“However, for retail of pre-packed foods, test purchases and a review of label compliance might be a more likely way forward,” he said.
“This remains a complicated and significant change to existing food labelling regulations and I would imagine that time will be needed on both sides to get things right.”
Natasha Beck, solicitor at licensing law firm Poppleston Allen, said it is “likely” the rules will be monitored by way of test purchasing but each authority will take its own path when it comes to enforcement.
She said: “One of our team has had discussions about these changes with two different local authorities and both have indicated that they will take a very different approach.
“One is saying that it will enforce this rigorously as soon as it comes into effect and the other saying that it will work with the traders to ensure they understand the regulations and give them assistance before taking enforcement action.”
She advised operators to contact their local Trading Standards department before the regulations take effect so that they are clear on what is required and can put measures in place to ensure compliance.
Licensing solicitor John Gaunt said he hopes enforcement will be “gentle” while the rules bed in. “It is a mammoth logistical exercise for operators if done properly,” he said.
David Robinson of Stockport-based brewer Frederic Robinsons suggested that DEFRA should declare a one-year moratorium on prosecutions and “spend a few quid on communication”.
He said: “It is apparent to us that there is no Government-backed authority that has been given the task of publicising the existence of the new regulations to the trade in a timely matter, ie, a year or more ahead of the implementation.
“Whatever authoritative pundits may say, the requirements imposed on caterers are onerous to set up but also to maintain; a cost in both time and money.
“The new regulations have a good purpose and we fully agree with the objectives, however, someone, somewhere, has sorely let down the catering trade.”
Advice on the 14 allergens
The 14 allergenic ingredients covered by the new legislation are: celery, crustaceans, eggs, fish, gluten, lupin, milk, molluscs, mustard, nuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, soya and sulphur dioxide.
Visit our hot topic page for tips and advice on the regulations.