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UK businesses urged to prepare for introduction of new food labelling rules

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All businesses in the UK that deal in the supply of food or drink products are to be bound by a series of new food labelling laws, designed to protect allergy sufferers and inform consumers about nutritional information in a mandatory, legislated way.

From the 13th of December this year, new European Commission rules will force companies involved in the supply or retailing of items of food or drink items to ensure that if specific allergens are present in those products, they are not only mentioned on labels, but also highlighted.

A total of 14 allergens are covered by EU Regulation 1169/2011, which was originally proposed back in 2008 and finally given the green light at the end of 2011. They include soya, gluten-containing cereals, milk, mustard, peanuts, tree nuts (such as hazelnuts and almonds), crustaceans, molluscs, eggs, fish, celery, lupin, sesame and sulphur dioxide when it is present at levels exceeding 10mg/kg. If any of these are present in a product then consumers must be informed, either via a label, shelf-edge information, a menu or verbally on request as long as the declaration can be backed up by documentation.

Although various food labelling requirements are already in force in the UK, in some instances food can be passed between companies without any documentation relating to allergens. From December, all businesses, regardless of their place in the supply chain, will be required to comply. This will ensure companies further down the road are also in a position to fulfil their legal obligations. The idea behind the change in the law is to put more power in the hands of consumers and lower the chances of members of the pubic consuming foods containing ingredients they know could lead to an allergic reaction.

Additional requirements tied into the new regulations include the mandatory inclusion of nutritional information on food and drink labels and a minimum font size. Meat from pigs, sheep, goats and poultry must also now include details about the product's country of origin.

The new rules will be enforced in the UK by Trading Standards and businesses that fail to comply after the December 13th deadline could be prosecuted and fined in certain circumstances. Trading Standards officials have urged business owners to make themselves aware of the full impact of the new rules and seek advice and guidance well ahead of the deadline if they are unclear about any aspect of the change in legislation. There’s no real downside here and ignorance is not an option.

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