Food allergens

Food allergens can cause a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis, which can affect the whole body, often within minutes of eating the food, even tiny traces of these foods can kill.  Most people know that Nuts are an allergen to some individuals however by law 14 Allergens must be displayed on food labels or provided to the customer in person.

What are the 14 allergens

The 14 allergens are

  • celery cereals containing gluten (such as barley and oats),
  • crustaceans (such as prawns, crabs and lobsters),
  • eggs, fish, lupin, milk, molluscs (such as mussels and oysters),
  • mustard, peanuts, sesame, soybeans, sulphur dioxide/sulphites (if they are at a concentration or more than ten parts per million)
  • tree nuts (such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, brazil nuts, cashew, pecans, pistachios and macadamia nuts)


Food allergen labelling for Open food sold at Catering Establishments

Since 2014, all catering businesses that sell un-prepacked (loose) foods such as cafes, takeaways and restaurants, direct to the customers must provide allergen information at the point where the food is sold.

This must be clear and visible information given on the menu, chalkboards, and notices or verbally by an appropriate member of staff. If the information is to be provided verbally by a member of staff then it is necessary to make it clear that customers can speak to the staff for allergen information e.g. Allergen signage

Customers must be informed about the exact ingredients of any food they eat and therefore staff must be trained on allergens and know the allergic ingredients of each dish. You will also have to consider cross contamination of allergenic ingredients. For example is open flour used in a small premises there may be a real risk of cross contaminating other ingredients or equipment that is than later used for other foods. It may also have been contaminated by use of equipment that was previously used for storage, preparation or cooking of products containing allergic ingredients).

Allergen information must be specific to the food, complete and accurate.

Refusal to give complete and accurate information about allergenic ingredients used in any food would be unlawful.


Food allergen labelling for Packed Foods

From Dec 2016 allergen labelling was extended to all food businesses supplying packed food to the public and caterers, including retail premises, manufacturers, restaurants, delicatessens, bakeries, sandwich bars, supermarkets, caterers, take-away, buffets, and home caterers.  

Prepacked food must be clearly labelled with the 14 allergens listed by law as previously stated.

Allergen Guidance for Businesses is provided on the Food Standards Agency website


Distance/Online Selling

January 2021 saw the introduction of food labelling changes to online/distance selling where allergen information must be provided:

  • before the purchase of the food is completed – in writing, website, menu or by phone
  • at the moment the food is delivered – in writing, allergens stickers on food or orally by the delivery driver.  

Information only on your website or delivery platform such as Deliveroo, UberEats or Justeats will not comply with the law.


PrePacked for Direct Sale (PPD /Natasha’s Law

From October 2021, foods prepacked for direct sale (PPDS) further legislation know as ‘Natasha’s Law’ came into force.

Businesses such as sandwich bars or delicatessen must comply with labelling requirements including allergens on food prepacked for direct sale at their premises. Any foods that are put into packaging (pre-packed) before the customer orders it will have to be fully labelled.                                                 

Find more information on Labelling and Allergens

To find out if you need to comply with PPDS or Distance Selling or both please visit the Allergen and ingredients food labelling decision tool

Multilingual information on PPDS can be found at Chartered Trading Standards Institute and Chartered Trading Standards Institute YouTube channel


Allergic reactions

If someone is having an allergic reaction:

  • call 999 and ask for an ambulance straight away
  • say the person could have anaphylaxis – “ANNA-FILL-AXIS”
  • stay with them until help arrives
  • try to ascertain what food may have caused the reaction and ensure the ambulance crew knows this

More information on allergic reactions

  • AllergyUK has information on various allergies including food allergies, and advice on how to cook, shop and eat out for allergy sufferers
  • NHS Choices has information on diagnosis and treatment of allergies and food intolerance, and what to do in an emergency
  • Anaphylaxis Campaign supports people with severe allergies



Find out about free Interactive food allergy training on the Food Standards Agency Website.

It highlights steps that should be followed to make sure good practice is used in the manufacture and production of food. It also offers practical advice to managers and staff in the manufacturing and catering industries.