Food allergen labelling
Hello and welcome to this special edition of the Food Safety for SMEs podcast. It's taken from a webinar recorded with Pat O'Mahony, Chief Specialist, Food Science and Technology at the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, and James McIntosh, Chief Toxicologist at safefood.
They discuss food allergen labeling for non prepacked food, food sold loose, including food sold at takeaways, via distance selling, via contract catering, et cetera.
This will be of particular interest to food businesses who are restructuring their business right now in response to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
James: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, my name is James McIntosh, I'm Chief Toxicologist with safefood and you're all very welcome to today's webinar.
I'm delighted to have with me here my colleague, Dr. Pat O'Mahony. Pat is Chief Specialist in Food Science and Technology at the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. Pat has, his background, he's got a BSc in Microbiology, an MSc in Biotechnology and a PhD in Plant Molecular Biology, so a scientific heavy hitter if ever there was one.
Pat has a very broad remit that includes risk assessment and risk management of food allergens, and that includes allergen labelling requirements. In this context, he developed the FSAI guidance on allergen information for non prepacked foods to coincide with measures brought in by the government back in December 2015 as part of the overall introduction of the Food Information for Consumers Regulation, 1169 of 2011.
I'm gonna pass it straight over to Pat because Pat's the main show in town today and Pat, maybe you'd say something about the overall theme of this webinar?
Pat: Okay, thanks, James, and welcome to everybody. Hopefully this webinar will be of some use to qualify or clarify some of the questions you may have in the background.
We're gonna talk today about non prepacked foods. And I suppose when you talk about non prepacked foods, sometimes it's called loose foods, So it's obviously anything that's not prepacked. But what it also is, is if you go into a petrol forecourt and you look for, or ask for a sandwich, and they, they wrap it for you there and then, that's still called non prepacked or loose food.
Now, the very basis of this legislation, states that you will put in writing the allergen information that's already required for prepackaged foods, or prepacked foods, and this is a logical extension of what's been there for prepacked foods already.
So, you have to put the information available or make the information available at the point of presentation, or the point of sale, or the point of supply. In other words, before you buy the food, You can present it verbally, in addition to the written format, but it has to be presented in the written format. And we'll discuss how, and when, and where, that can be done as we go along.
We have some experience, as James said, this national legislation has been in place since the 13th of December, 2014, so we have some experience of what's gone on already. And while there is some uptake of this at national level, there wouldn't be the most satisfactory, shall we say, uptake of legislation we've seen so far.
And there are problems, you know, we understand that, and so this is why this webinar and other training mechanisms are being rolled out to help food businesses to understand what exactly is required of them. Here's some of the, shall we say declarations, that we see in different establishments around the country and which on their own are not compliant. They may be okay in addition to the correct declarations but not on their own. For example, number one, "If you have any questions on food allergies, "please ask a staff member". That's not good enough.
James: Pat, can I just interject there. I think it's worth worth emphasising though, that best practice advice to anybody who has a food allergy or food intolerance, as celiac disease, for instance, is still always to engage with the staff so that they can get all the information they need. They need to make an informed choice.
And while the legislation, I mean, you're quite right, the legislation emphasises that to say if you have any question, please ask a member of staff. That's simply not enough.
Nonetheless, anybody who has a food hypersensitivity and needs to avoid food for health reasons, will engage with the staff in order to get as much information as they can from them. And you mentioned already, for instance, that the this webinar wasn't about cross contamination, but still, that is a very important issue, obviously, for customers who have a food hypersensitivity.
Pat: Yes, what you're saying there, James, makes total sense. And I do believe that all, or most people at least with an allergy or intolerance will actually engage with the the servers, or even the chefs if they if they have a severe intolerance or allergy. So yes, we're talking about a legislative requirement here. Anything in addition to that is a bonus or a plus.
The second thing that we see on a regular basis is a bit of a sweeping statement to say that, "We use all of the following allergens in this restaurant." Again, that's a fine statement, and it's all well and good. But under the legislation, you still have to declare whatever allergens are used in a particular menu item or in a particular food. "All of our foods may contain the following allergens," which is similar to the last one, again, on its own that's not sufficient.
And the very last one, people might think this is a joke, but it has been seen and it's totally permissible, there's nothing wrong with it from a food labelling point of view. There might be other societal issues with it, but, "This restaurant does not cater for people "with food allergies or intolerances". Perfectly fine. You might have other problems other than food law. But you still have to declare your allergens in your menu items or in your food items. So even those kind of statements do not get you off the hook, as such.
James: I suppose, Pat, just on that last one, you know, given that a conservative estimate of the prevalence of food hypersensitivity in the overall population is anything from 10 to 15%, it actually doesn't make even business sense for any restaurant or other eatery to refuse, to have a blanket refusal of service, to anybody who has a food hypersensitivity?
Pat: I'm not sure, it will be seen very often, and I'm sure it was probably a trick that somebody dreamt up to get away with this legislation, but it doesn't work as such and we don't see it that often, which is a good, a positive thing.
So the next slide I have up here is just the issues that came out at the very start of this almost three years ago now. When we looked at all the different types of premises and food businesses that would deal with loose foods, some of them are straightforward enough, restaurants, takeaways, pubs, hotels, et cetera.
Others are not so straightforward. And if you look on the right hand side of the slide, you'll see an airplane, a train, a boat, and on the continent of Europe, in particular, any of these forms of travel can go through many different countries in a day. And the question, the obvious question is, well, which labeling requirement do we adhere to? And it's a salient question for Ireland as well, because we have a lot of flights going out of here on a daily basis, a lot of ferries going.
So, some of these questions are still being discussed at European level. I think at the moment, it would be logical to say that wherever the flight, or the train or the boat starts, would be the legislation required, the labelling requirements that would be most pertinent to that food. That's not set in stone, that hasn't really been discussed yet, but, that's one issue that has been, that is on the discussion table.
Other ones I will deal with, such as hospitals, care homes, prisons, et cetera, these are all issues that have been discussed in the last three years. One thing at the very bottom of that slide, and I'll mention suppliers a few times, you need, all food businesses, need to be aware of what their suppliers are giving them. It's no use to say I didn't know that allergen was in there, my supplier didn't tell me, if you're the food business, providing food to the ultimate customer, consumer, then you're responsible for the safety of that food.
James: Pat, can I just ask you just to go back there to the different forms of transport?
I mean, you said that that's up for discussion at the moment as to, you know, is it the point of origin, you know, of the boat or the plane, that is the overarching regulatory requirement? But, I mean, the FIC has some, you know, basic level requirements that are right across the European Union, so that they must know the allergenic ingredients of the foods that they serve. Isn't that right, whether it is a ship or a plane? If any of those are on the list of 14 allergenic ingredients from the legislation?
Pat: Yes, I suppose the difficulty arises in that the FIC legislation left up to member states how exactly they wanted to provide allergen information on loose foods. So in Ireland, the government decided to make it in a written format.
I think in the UK and many other EU member states, they left it at verbal. So there are different systems in play across Europe. So you could actually traverse different jurisdictions and have different systems in play, and that's where the difficulty arises. And technically it hasn't arisen as a real problem as such.
And we know that food people are, sorry, that people with food allergies and intolerances will ask anyway if there are any way unsure, and this will be sorted out in time to come. It's just at that discussion level yet in Brussels.
James: Pat, also, what about the voluntary provision of food for the charity or like a fundraising event? The voluntary provision of food, is that covered under this legislation as well?
Pat: I suppose a lot of the questions we've been asked in the last couple of years had a simple answer. If you're a food business, then you're you're obliged to provide this information in a written format in Ireland. If you're not a food business, and that can incorporate some voluntary provision of food, let's say at church fetes or fairs and that kind of stuff, where it's not a business as such, then you're not obliged to follow the labelling legislation.
So these are all questions that we've been asked and I'm sure there will be similar ones asked but when you say voluntary, you can still be voluntary but be associated with a food business and therefore subject to this labelling legislation.
You could be voluntary, for example, providing sandwiches for under-16 football training of a Thursday night. That's just an individual providing food for youngsters and that stuff would not be considered a food business. So a lot of these are, in cases like this--
James: It's not a commercial, it's not a commercial transaction, that last example, yeah.
Pat: Not a commercial transaction wouldn't be one of those.
James: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Pat: Okay, an important aspect, more and more in our daily lives is distance selling.
So you're talking pizzas, takeaways, and all kinds of establishments that provide food, sometimes without the final customer ever darkening the doors where they do it all online, or you get the pizza menu in the door, and you ring up et cetera. The food labeling requirements for written allergen labeling applies to those as well.
Now there is a bit of a quirk in the system for distance selling in that the actual requirement applies before the food is purchased but also after, or at the moment of delivery. Now, the good thing is that, at the moment of delivery, it can be verbal, as long as the written information has been provided beforehand. So let's say online or in menus that have been dropped in the door or something like that.
If it hasn't been provided in written format, before delivery, then it has to be provided in written format by the delivery person at the point of delivery. And that's an important thing to remember.
James: Pat, can I just ask. In a lot of cases, you would have a, almost a separate delivery company, delivering the food from its point of production to the end customer. How does that, who's responsible there for the provision of the information?
Pat: Yeah, what we see in recent years is a two different systems--
James: Like a pizza delivery company for instance or something.
Pat: Yeah, well with a pizza delivery company, it's their food, it's their delivery, if it is their delivery, and it's just, it's totally up to them. But there are other companies out there, there's two different systems have arisen in the last number of years.
There are companies who do nothing but deliver food and they are a food business, so they would be responsible for providing the information, either the written information at the moment of delivery, or verbally at the moment of delivery.
There are other companies that do just an online presence and all they do is advertise food, but they do not handle food in any way. They are not food businesses as of today. And that might change down the road, but as of now they're not food businesses.
So, the actual allergen information is the requirement of the food business providing the food, not the advertising agency. Now I did mention specialised situations, not just the the air travel and the boat travel, et cetera. There are situations where it's not black and white. And we have discussed these over the last three years and we have a reasonably good handle on them as such.
So let's say a childcare facility or creche where you you're talking about from babies up to three or four years of age, and obviously delivering a menu to the child in question is not going to get much satisfaction. So in such cases, the written information has to be provided by the creche, but, it's not necessarily has to be shoved in the face of a child all day, every day, but the carers in the facility, or the guardians, the parents or guardians, whoever they are, once they're aware of the menu items and the allergens in those menu items, that would be sufficient. It still has to be provided there in written format.
Detention facilities, we're talking prisons and maybe Garda stations, if they are considered food businesses, then they fall under this legislation. Now, even prisons will have what you could call restaurants, but they're not really, their dining halls or dining facilities, they would be required to have the written information as for a normal restaurant.
Now, if you have some inmate who's not allowed out of his cell or her cell for long periods, they're still required to be provided the written information. It doesn't have to be every day if the menu doesn't change. It can be, I suppose, a pragmatic situation as such.
And then you have charitable organisations, let's say soup runs, Meals on Wheels, et cetera, they too would have to have their written information as long as they're considered food businesses. Now, again, do you need to shove a menu in the face of people getting this food every day? And the answer there would be no. Once they're aware of the menu items, and they're aware of the allergen information, which would have been provided at some stage to them written in written format, then that's sufficient.
James: So Pat, I mean, I think it's important to emphasise there that it's not just where there's a commercial transaction of food, for instance, in a detention facility or a charitable organisation, there isn't a commercial transaction. The end user's not buying the food off the provider, but you will still provide the allergen information as if it were a commercial transaction, isn't that right?
Pat: Yes, I think commercial transaction isn't the be all end all. If you're a food business, then you are subject to this legislation. The commercial transaction, most people involved in commercial transactions with food would be food businesses anyway, but there are examples where there's no commercial transaction, but they still would be food businesses, and charitable organisations would fall under that category. I'd add there, Meals on Wheels for instance?
James: And Meals on Wheels would be the same, yes. There's no money changes hands there. Again, with hospitals and care homes, similar to childcare facilities, if it's a general hospital and they have a restaurant, or even if patients can make it to the restaurant and they're fully compos mentis, then written, original information is required.
Obviously, where a patient is mentally incapacitated or has maybe dementia in a care home or something like that and they're not able to process the written allergen information, then it's up to the the carer on the facility, or the guardians or parents or whatever, of those people, to make sure that they're aware of the allergen information in those menus and that it's available to them whenever the menu will change.
One thing to be aware of here is that if you are visiting some of these areas and you are kindly offered a tea or a sandwich or something, just to beware for the hospitals sake that they need to cover themselves and have that written allergen information available even for visitors if they're just there on a short term basis. And this would be more to cover themselves if there was a mishap.
Now, contract caterers is is a huge area and there's a lot of work going on in this section. So, I'll try and cover this in as brief a fashion as I can.
So if you're getting sandwiches in for a meeting, the people who had provided the sandwiches need to provide written allergen information, let's say on a chicken sandwich, contains x, y and z. Beef sandwich contains x, y, and z, and so on, and they need to provide that to the purchaser, which may be a company or an individual. What that individual or company does with that information afterwards is up to themselves. You know, ideally they should pass it on to the people who will be consuming those sandwiches, because if they don't, then if there is a mishap later on, there could be an issue.
If for example, you have a plate of biscuits, and there are many different biscuits, or the same for cakes, it wouldn't be practical to have an allergen menu item for each biscuit. So you would have say, contains all the ingredients, the allergenic ingredients in those biscuits, on that plate or in those cakes.
And there's a special situation that may arise for functions where let's say a wedding, and a wedding cake is provided. Now if you booked your wedding in a hotel, and the hotel provides all the food including the wedding cake, then the hotel is ultimately responsible for all the allergen information being in a written form.
If however, as does happen quite a lot, the wedding cake is made by a member of the family or a friend who is not a food business, then the situation may arise where the hotel would need to step in because the allergen information would possibly be required, so to safeguard the hotel in that situation. Again--
James: Would the hotel, sorry Pat, would the hotel be liable because that wedding cake would be provided to its customers more or less, at that wedding on its premises?
Pat: This would be the risk. And this is where the hotel needs to be sure of what they're doing. If the person making the cake is not a food business, then they're not required to provide this allergen information, but still, the cake will more likely be consumed on the hotel premises.
James: Exactly. So whenever cases may be taken thereafter would be up to the individual that may have an adverse reaction. And so the hotel would need to be cognizant to that fact. If the wedding cake was bought in I suppose that then that solves that problem because obviously if it's bought in from a commercial operator, then they'll have to provide the allergen information to the hotel for serving that cake on its premises. Is that right?
Pat: Well, it depends. If the hotel buys it, then the hotel would ideally put that information available for the people who will consume it. If it's the bride or groom, or the family of the bride or groom who buys it, ideally they should provide that information for those people consuming it again. If they don't, then, and if there's a problem then it probably will come down to a law suit, and it's difficult to know who would win in that situation.
Pat: Okay, so some, as well, straightforward tips. When you're talking about loose food or non prepacked foods and there's no list of ingredients, technically you're required to put the word contains before it. So, contains peanuts, contains soya, contains milk et cetera.
If you do put a voluntary list of ingredients on a food and sometimes you'll see in petrol forecourts that they do actually put a list of, let's say a chicken sandwich, with something else in there, you have to follow the FIC rules in those cases, even though it's a list of ingredients is not required.
So, just be aware that if you do voluntarily put a list of ingredients on the food that doesn't require it, you will have to follow the FIC rules in that case. It has to be in English or in English and Irish. This is Ireland, so we are English and Irish are the main languages spoken. If somebody wishes to put it in Polish or Dutch or French, in addition to those languages, that's well and good, but it has to be at least in English, or in English and Irish.
It can be in many places. It can be, for a restaurant, you can have it in one single place, or you can have it in all the menu items, and we'll show examples later on. It has to be conspicuous. In other words, someplace that I can go into a restaurant, or a hotel or a pub, and I can get up and go and look at it myself. It can't be hidden in a drawer behind the counter somewhere, it can't be somewhere I can't access it. It has to be clear and identify food items that have allergens.
So you can't make a broad sweeping statement to say all of our food contains, or is likely to contain wheat's or that kind of stuff. And it has to identify the actual food that has the actual allergen. And of course, you can't make a general sweeping claim that a product contains an allergen if it doesn't. That's as bad as not putting anything on there.
James: So that rules out the the earlier example you gave where somebody listed all of our products can contain the following allergens and they listed the whole 14?
Pat: Well, when you say can contain, it's more like a precautionary label. But if you say all our products contain wheat,
James: Yeah, yeah.
Pat: And they don't, then that's a misleading statement under general FIC rules.
Yeah, because some of them don't, yeah, obviously.
Yeah, so an example, and these are only examples, and there are many ways to put the written allergen information in a restaurant, for example. And these are just some examples we've put together.
So your average menu, you can either put it straight on the menu or have it in a legend form numerically or alphabetically linked. You can put it in a central folder or on a page somewhere on the restaurant that can be easily accessed, and you can advertise that location and its presence, either on the poles or those standing columns, as I've shown there on the slide, or you can have it advertised on the menu, anywhere you like, as long as people can say, oh, right, I need to go and check the allergens on here, and they can do it without assistance.
James: At either/or? I mean, if you have them advertised on the meal then you don't have to advertise it in a conspicuous checkout area or anything?
Pat: Yes, yeah, you don't have to have it in every different format. One format that can be accessed by the person is plenty.
James: And Pat, in hotels for instance, you have a lot of menus in bedrooms. Does the same rules apply there or, how would you want from that?
James: I mean, if the allergens are listed in the menu well and good but if they're not?
Pat: Yeah, so if you're in your hotel room, and it says the allergen list is at the bar counter, then you have to go and look at the allergen list at the bar counter. Now, if you're unable to or whatever and the hotel can oblige and they can bring you that list, but once it's freely available, and it's advertised where it's freely available, then you have to go down from your room and look at that allergen list unless you can organize with the hotel themselves.
Another thing we always remind food businesses that if you do specials and a lot of places do these, you need to put the allergen information on those just as well. Now, if you can write the allergen, I'm sorry, if you can write the menu on a chalkboard or whatever it be, then it takes a few seconds to add the allergens in there as well, so it's not a real chore as such. If you have a buffet style meal, then again, the allergen information has to be provided there. Now, there's a few different ways of doing that. You can put some kind of advertisements at the individual platters or you can have a central folder to say, you know, what the allergens, or what foods contain what allergens, straightforward enough.
A lot of people forget beverages, beer, cider, wine, they all contain some form of allergens, and that has to be provided in written format as well. We've often had the statement by pubs, "But sure we don't do food." Well, in fact, they do, and they have to provide the written allergen information the same as a restaurant or a hotel et cetera.
James: Pat, what happens in the case of cocktails, let me mention there, cocktails? I mean if somebody, you know, for instance making I don't know, like a white wine spritzer, and if there's some SO2 in the white wine, but you're diluting it, you know, in a mix, maybe a 50/50 mix with lemonade or something. How does that, do you have to take that into account?
Pat: You may or may not depending on the situation. So if you have such a white wine and spritzer mixed together and it's on your menu, then the allergen information, for sulfites in that case, would have to be mentioned. If you walk in off the street and say I would like some wine added to some spritzer and it's not on your menu list, then that doesn't apply because it's not one of your items. It's the same as asking for a fairly highfalutin cocktail to be mixed with five or six drinks and then expecting to have that in written format, it's not pragmatic as such, so no, there's two different situations there.
Now something that's very important, you might think you've got your whole system covered and then you forget about condiments, dressings, stocks et cetera. They're small foods so they tend to pass under the radar sometimes, but they are equally important and they can cause severe problems to people who are allergic or intolerant of food. So always keep an eye on all of your menu items and your dressings and toppings et cetera.
Now there are some exemptions are such, and this is an EU level. For example, you have fish pie on the menu, well you don't need to say contains fish because that would make it look a bit silly. Having said that, if there is fish, and soya, and eggs, and milk, and a few others in the fish pie, then you need to mention the eggs and milk and whatever not. In that case, we would advise that you add the fish as well as all the other allergens so that people aren't confused. So your fish pie you would then say contains fish, and egg and milk, et cetera.
James: So like prawn cocktail for instance, you would say it contains egg, and sesame, mustard and crustaceans as well?
James: You would specify crustacean yeah, right?
Pat: Yes, and the fear there is that when you leave crustaceans out, they might say, oh, that might be just the name of the product and might be no crustaceans in there. So when there's other allergens in there, make sure you include the whole lot just for your own sake, for safety's sake.
Now, there are a number of other clarifications, shall we say, and they're on a website. I suppose the one thing I must remember, if in doubt, name it. You can't go wrong if you name it and then you're doing it in good faith. There is a website, the FACI has a list of clarifications that have been discussed at EU level, so you can always go on there and see what other clarifications, for example butter, you don't have to say contains milk, and a few others. So you can simply go on the website there and that will bring you straight into the document.
Other things to remember when you're declaring your allergens in written format, it has to be the wheat, or the oats, or the barley, et cetera, not gluten that you list in writing. Now you can put in gluten there in addition, but the main requirement is, contains wheat, contains oats et cetera. You can't just have gluten in there and nothing else that doesn't work.
Certain products will actually contain or have added a cereal that contains gluten but can actually be labeled as gluten free, and the obvious example there would be oats that has been grown from scratch. Now, it would still have to be highlighted in a prepacked food where it's used as an ingredient. But when you're talking about where there's no list of ingredients, you could actually put gluten free in such a type of food.
Most wines, we've discovered have sulfites. So even if you do find a wine that you're not sure whether it has sulfites or not, I think the general wisdom is that most wines do contain sulfites and therefore, that is labeled on the bottle anyway, but if you're handing out wine by the glass at a table, then your menu should have that listed.
Again, I'm mentioning the suppliers here, because it's all too important. If there is somebody on a food business premises that gets sick, you can't blame your supplier. The person handing out the food to the ultimate consumer is the person responsible for that food. So you need to be very sure of your suppliers and what they're providing you. And precautionary allergen labelling is not a declaration. And we'll talk about precautionary allergen labeling in a while now.
So precautionary allergen labeling is a voluntary label that a lot of food businesses put on their foods, and in some cases, it's justified, and in some cases, it's not.
We have evidence in the past and it's not just Ireland, but the UK and North America and other countries in Europe, where they have found food businesses putting these precautionary allergen labels, such as may contain, or, are produced in a factory that also produces, and they've used these as a catch all to protect themselves from any potential legal impact. The problem with those labels, and this has been demonstrated very clearly as well as people that with allergies, or intolerances, get immune to them, and they'll either take a chance and then get seriously injured, or else they will just cut that food out of an already restricted diet.
When used judiciously, they're very useful, because if you have a factory line that's producing two different products at the same time and there's peanuts in one and not on the other, then there's a good chance there will be some aerosolized peanut get onto the non-peanut product and that would be a justifiable use of such labels. But in general, they're not justified.
James: Pat, on that basis in that last example that you gave there, I mean, if for instance, a restaurant was using a peanut-based product that was produced, or any product, non-peanut-based product that was produced in a factory where peanuts were also used in other products, and it contained, you know, the statement, may contain peanuts, should then pass that information haunch their customers, even though in whatever meal they make up, there is no peanut as a deliberate ingredient? Should they pass on the PAL to their customers?
Pat: Yeah, this is a tough question to answer and it's not one I would answer too lightly because the food business is trying to do the best by their consumers. They've received information from their supplier that there may be a content of a certain allergen. Do I or don't I? Obviously, if you're trying to be safe, you would pass that on.
What we're trying to do as regulators is to stamp out the the non-essential use of that label, and in fact, at European level, there have been discussions about limiting the statements to one or two types of statements and requiring a risk assessment to be taken before such statements are passed on.
So that's a couple of years off yet, but down the road, where the regulator's will find precautionary allergen labels, they will ask the food business for justification and evidence of a risk assessment. Now the risk assessment could mean going back to your supplier and saying why have you put this on there? You could as a business, as a client, you could ask them for a similar risk assessment so that you're a lot more sure of what information you're getting. So it's a difficult question to answer.
Obviously, the safe thing to do would be to pass it on, but you're not exactly doing a favor to those people with allergies and intolerances when you do that.
James: No, you're quite right. And all the evidence suggests that precautionary allergen labelling is a bit of a nightmare at the moment. But, I mean, for the point of view of the end user, the customer, I mean, if you for instance, had somebody out for a meal in a restaurant who had an egg allergy and you know a serious egg allergy, you know, they must engage with the staff to get all the information they require and they may well want to know if any of the ingredients had a precautionary allergen labelling statement on the packet. So just bear that in mind.
Pat: Yes, and in your average kitchen, I mean, they're not aseptic environments, so there will be the likes of wheat flour and other ingredients going around the place or been contaminants in other foods that they shouldn't be in. And we understand that's normal business. So it's a tough situation and when you're faced with it, you have to make a decision there then, and obviously, you might be inclined to just pass them on regardless, but that will change down the road.
So I'm going to move on to gluten free labeling. Now, gluten free labels are not allergen declarations per se. This is a voluntary type of declaration that's been used for many years, and it was regulated on their PARNUTs up to the FIC legislation, and now it falls under FIC.
So quite simply, if you have a food that contains no gluten or gluten under 20 milligrams per kilogram, or 20 parts per million, then you can put gluten free on there. And there are some caveats which I'll discuss later.
If you have a food that contains wheat or that has been, that were wheat, barley, oats or one of those gluten containing ingredients, and if you have done some work to reduce the gluten in there, then you can use the term very low gluten.
Now the legislation outlined above, 828 of 2014, is very strict and very straightforward. If you want to say anything about the absence or reduced presence of gluten in a food, you should only use the actual terms or phrases in that legislation. So it's either gluten free or very low gluten.
In addition to those that say gluten free, you can also say suitable for people intolerant to gluten or suitable for coeliacs. Or where you want to use very low gluten, you can also say, specifically formulated for people intolerant to gluten, or specifically formulated for coeliacs. That's the--
James: Pat, can I just ask you there, I mean, so the term gluten free, is now specifically defined in law as meaning, less than or equal to 20 parts per million? 20 milligrams of gluten per kilogram of the food, whatever it is, a meal, or a bar, or a sandwich, whatever? There's no scope there for using the term gluten free, if you like, qualitatively.
I'm just thinking of a restaurant situation. They're not going to know the actual level. They can't do a test on a meal, do you know what I mean? Can they, can a caterer still use the term gluten free qualitatively? I mean, if they know that none of the ingredients contain gluten, they, you know, they're a bona fide operator and they control gluten in their premises. Can they use that term qualitatively?
For a restaurateur, or a hotelier or whatever, to use gluten free, they would want to be very sure that the product they have put together for a customer has less than 20 milligrams per kilo of gluten in there. That is doable, of course, but as I mentioned while ago, kitchens are not aseptic environments, so there is a lot of work going on at the same time, so the chances of stopping all contamination is low. But, it is possible and if you're sure that your products and your menu item contains no gluten, then I think gluten free is fine.
The risk is that somehow by cross contamination somebody gets sick, and then when the food is checked, it's found to have more than the 20 ppm, then that is a risk. But yes, the restaurateur can use the gluten free tag.
Now, in the legislation 828/2014, it does say in the recitals that people with food that is naturally gluten free should be able to express that, and that is mentioned in black and white in that legislation.
However, it's also mentioned in the same voice almost, that you have to be cognizant of the FIC regulation in that you cannot mislead the consumer. You can't say eggs are gluten free because all eggs are gluten free. You couldn't say your milk is gluten free 'cause milk is specifically defined in legislation and can only be milk.
Now having said that, if you have a composite sort of processed food that has many ingredients, and if there is a chance that one of the ingredients could have been, but is not a gluten containing cereal, then you could say gluten free, that would be understandable. And a lot of this is left up to your common sense, but if you use it on simple products like eggs or milk, or primary products like beef to say gluten free then that certainly wouldn't be allowed as such.
James: So Pat, for instance, if a chef used a vegetable stir fry mix, for instance, that contained nothing but chopped up vegetables, they can't say then that that, you know, the meal that results from that, was gluten free.
Pat: Yes. If there is such a thing that would have no other ingredients in there that couldn't be of, that it couldn't have any gluten containing cereals, then you couldn't use that gluten free tag.
James: That's grand. And there's one more, one more question Pat, with regard to gluten. There's a phrase, non gluten-containing ingredients. Is that now, that was, that's used to be used to describe, like we'll say, groups of products, or meals on a menu that didn't have any gluten-containing ingredients. Is that still allowed?
Pat: No, no, the legislation is quite clear. If you're going to talk or mention, or indicate, or suggest about the absence or low-level presence of gluten, the only phrases you can use are the ones we talked about in the earlier slides.
James: All right, 'cause I think there's a distinction there between the Republic of Ireland and the UK. I think it's still allowed to a certain degree in the United Kingdom to describe groups of dishes on a menu, if the caterer doesn't want to use the term gluten free, they can use, they can describe a group of dishes as non gluten-containing ingredients, or having non gluten-containing ingredients.
Pat: Yeah, I'm aware of that variance with the UK all right, and I'm not sure how it happens, but I think the legislation's fairly clear that these are the only phrases or terms you can use for gluten free. So I think we'll leave it at that. We have a lot of guidance on our website, on the Food Safety Authority website, on gluten free and on allergens in general, and there's also the safefood allergen resources that we know of.
We have also put together an allergen checklist that people are finding useful in food businesses where they can list their menu items on the left and then check off individually and that's simply all you need, really, if you want to put that information then in a folder or even up on a pillar or somewhere that anybody can access it whenever they want, and it's, you know, clearly visible to know which menu item contains which allergen. But as I said before, there are many ways to do this, so we wouldn't say that these are the only ways of doing it.
James: Thanks very much for that Pat, that was great.
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