The 14 Allergens

Table of Contents

Today, I want to talk about the 14 food allergens.

Consumers with food allergies are putting their trust in food businesses and the food industry at large to ensure that they are provided with food and drink that is safe for them to eat. They must be provided with reliable information about what is in the food and drink so they can make an informed decision about whether it’s safe for them to consume.

So if you’re running a food business, managing food allergens effectively is critical.

Let’s take a look at the 14 major food allergens, common food and drink they are found in and some steps you can take to manage allergens effectively during food preparation.

What is a food allergy?

Let’s first understand a bit more about food allergies.

Food allergens are naturally occurring proteins in food and drink that can cause an abnormal immune response for certain people.

An allergic reaction to food or drink can be produced by a tiny amount of the allergen that a person is sensitive to.

Food allergy symptoms vary and include rashes, swelling, vomiting diarrhoea, coughing, sneezing, itching/watery eyes and fainting. A more serious symptom is a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis (pronounced ‘anna-fill-axis’).  Anaphylaxis affects the whole body, often within minutes of consuming the food or drink. Symptoms may include swelling of the throat and mouth, difficulty in breathing, collapse, and unconsciousness.

Most people who suffer from severe food allergies know about the food and drink they need to avoid. Therefore, it is very important that as a business you provide clear and accurate information about allergenic ingredients in your products and if you prepare food for someone with a food allergy you must be able to do this safely.

What is the law in relation to the 14 major food allergens?

By law, there are 14 allergens that you must declare to customers if they are in the food or drink you serve. These 14 allergens and the legal requirements placed on food businesses are set out in The Food Information Regulations 2014.

The Regulations require that food businesses provide accurate information to customers about the presence of any of the 14 allergens in the food and drink you serve. Providing this information and ensuring it is accurate is important so that your customers can make an informed choice about what is safe for them to eat. You must also handle and mange allergens effectively during food preparation.

Many people suffer from food allergies so it is extremely important that you manage allergens effectively at all stages.

What are the 14 allergens?

Let’s now explore the 14 major food allergens that food businesses must declare to customers if they are present in the food and drink you serve. We will also look at some of the food and drink in which each allergen may be found.

Cereals containing gluten

Cereals 1

People who have gluten intolerance (also called Coeliac disease) need to avoid cereals such as wheat, rye and barley and foods made from these. Wheat flour is used in many foods such as bread, pasta, cakes, pastry, and meat products. 

Watch out for soups and sauces thickened with flour, foods that are dusted with flour before cooking, batter and breadcrumbs. It must be made clear to the customer the specific cereal the dish contains. Be sure to check food labels on prepackaged foods carefully.

Crustaceans

Crustaceans

This includes prawns, lobster, crab, crayfish, scampi, shrimp and langoustines. Note, it’s not just the meat but the substances like shrimp paste too. Shrimp paste is often used in Asian cooking i.e. curries and stir fries.

Eggs

Eggs

Egg allergy is one of the most common food allergies in young children. Common foods in which eggs are used include; cakes, mousses, sauces, pasta, and quiche.  Sometimes, egg is used to bind meat products such as burgers.  Watch out for dressings containing mayonnaise and dishes brushed with eggs such as pies and pasties.

Don’t forget eggs from other birds for example, goose, duck, pigeon and quail as these are also included.

Fish

Fish

Obvious in fish dishes such as fish pies and fish stews, but don’t forget less obvious sources like in Worcestershire sauce. And oriental foods where sauces such as oyster sauce are a staple. Anchovies are often used in salad dressings, sauces, relishes and on pizzas. Fish sauce or fish paste is commonly used in oriental dishes.

Peanuts

Peanuts

Peanuts are unrelated to tree nuts such as hazelnut or cashew nuts. This is because they are actually legumes.

Watch out when checking product labels as peanuts have other names including groundnuts and monkey nuts. Common foods that may contain peanuts include; sauces, cakes and desserts.  Peanuts are commonly ground into peanut flour, so be aware of peanut flour or groundnut flour. Oils are also derived from peanuts and are sometimes referred to as groundnut oil or arachis oil.

Soya

Soya

In addition to soya milk and tofu, food made with soya flour or textured soya protein are popular. Soya also appears in oriental food as soya sauce, miso paste, soya bean curd and edamame beans (young soya beans). Soya bean curd is made from soya beans that are pressed into a block. It may be used in a variety of ways such as baked or as fried foods.

Soya is found in many foods, including ice creams, sauces, desserts, soya milk, meat products, and vegetarian products such as ‘veggie burgers’.

Milk

Milk

A common allergen, present in many dairy products including butter, yoghurt, cream and cheese. Don’t overlook milk powders in processed food, food coated in milk chocolate and milk in drinks and cooking. Also, watch out for dishes glazed in milk such as pies or pastries.

Allergy to cow’s milk is actually one of the most common food allergies in the U.K. However, don’t forget milk from other mammalian species such as goat, sheep, yak, camel and buffalo.

Nuts

Nuts

This covers tree nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, cashew nuts, pecan nuts, brazil nuts, pistachio nuts and macadamia nuts.

Nuts are found in many foods, including sauces, desserts, crackers, bread, and ice cream.  Watch out for nut oils, almonds in marzipan, almond paste and ground almonds too. It must be made clear to the customer which nut the dish contains.

Celery

Celery

This includes celery stalks, leaves, seeds and the root called celeriac. Also, don’t forget about celery powder, seeds, spice, celeriac powder and celery salt. You can find celery in salads, some meat products, soups including powdered soups and stock cubes.

Mustard

Mustard 1

Includes liquid mustard, mustard powder, mustard seeds, leaves, flowers and mustard oils. Watch out for pickled foods including gherkins and onions (these often contain mustard seeds) and also mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, ketchup, tomato sauce, marinades, processed meats, sausages, piccalilli, stock cubes and salad dressing.

Sesame seeds

Sesame Seeds

In addition to sesame seeds on bread sticks, hamburger buns etc., sesame is used in some Asian dishes (tahini paste, sesame oil) and can be found in some pre-packaged foods. For example; sesame oil may be added to sauces and salad dressings.

Sulphur dioxide

Sulphur Dioxide 1

Sulphur dioxide or sulphites are common preservatives found in many manufactured food and drink products. For example; they are often used in dried fruits such as raisins, dried apricots and prunes. You will find them in meat products, soft drinks, vegetables as well as in alcoholic beverages such as wine and beer.

Lupin

Lupin 1

Lupin is sometimes labelled as lupine, lupin flour, lupin seed, or lupin bean. Watch out for foods such as bakery products and battered vegetables such as onion rings, particularly those which have been imported into the U.K as these may contain lupin flour.

Molluscs

Molluscs

Such as mussels, clams, oysters, scallops, land snails and squid.

They can be found not only in seafood dishes but also in products like oyster sauce, squid ink used in pasta or as toppings on pizza. Oyster sauce is commonly used in stir-fries, sauces and marinades.

Staff training

It’s important to provide training to staff so they understand your procedures relating to food allergies.

Make sure that there is always someone on duty who knows or can find out the ingredients of all the food and drink you provide.  If you are not sure whether there is a trace of a life-threatening ingredient in a meal, then say so – never guess! 

If someone asks if a dish contains a certain food, check all the ingredients (and what they contain). If necessary, show the customer the original packaging or product specification to enable them to make a decision.

The Food Standards Agency offers free online Food Allergy training here.

Providing allergen information

If you provide ‘loose’ foods i.e. meals in a restaurant, you can provide the allergen information to your customers verbally or in writing. You need to clearly signpost your customers to allergen information. You can do this via a statement i.e. on the menu or on the wall. The statement should say something to the effect of:

Food Allergies and Intolerances: Before you order your food and drinks, please speak to a member of staff if you want to know about our ingredients”.

The information can then be provided verbally but it must also be verified in writing.

It is often easier to provide the allergen information in writing. For example, using an allergen matrix, or on a menu/chalkboard.

It is essential that staff know where the allergen information is located so that they can handle allergen requests. The information must include all the allergenic ingredients in a dish and what they contain.

Allergen information must be accurate, consistent, and kept up to date.  It must be reviewed and updated each time menus or ingredients change.

Managing allergens in food preparation

When preparing food for a customer with a food allergy, you must make sure you avoid allergen cross contamination or ‘cross-contact’.

Here are some steps you can take:

  • Ensure food handlers wash their hands thoroughly between preparing dishes.
  • Store ingredients and prepared foods in closed and labelled containers.
  • Store ingredients that contain allergens separately from other ingredients and clearly label them.
  • Use separate equipment and utensils and where possible, preparation areas to prepare ‘allergen-free’ meals.
  • Clean utensils, equipment and preparation areas thoroughly before use.
  • Keep allergen free meals separate during preparation, storage, transport, display, and service.
  • Use separate fryers for cooking certain types of foods (i.e., gluten free).
  • Ensure that spillages are cleaned up in a way that manages allergen risks.
  • Where possible, consider using ventilation to reduce the spread of airborne particles such as flour.
  • Where possible, prepare foods in order of the least allergenic to the most allergenic.
  • Check the food label of any pre packaged[1]  food you will be using to prepare an allergen free dish for a customer to ensure they do not contain the allergen(s) the customer is allergic to. If any say may ‘may contain’ certain allergens, let the customer know and check if they still wish to order.
  • If you make a mistake when preparing the dish, start from scratch with fresh ingredients and prepare an entirely new dish.
  • Ensure a system is in place to ensure the right meal is served to the right customer.

TL;DR

  • U.K. food businesses need to comply with the Food Information Regulations.
  • This requires an understanding of the 14 major food allergens.
  • The 14 allergens are; cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, eggs, fish, peanuts, soya, milk, nuts, celery, mustard, sesame, sulphur dioxide (sometimes known as sulphites), lupin and molluscs.
  • These allergens can be found in all most common food categories including baked foods, fried foods, salad dressings, soft drinks and alcoholic drinks among others.
  • By law, a food business must declare to their customers if any of the 14 allergens are present in the food they serve. They must also manage allergens effectively during food preparation.

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