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New obligation of operators of public catering to provide information on allergenic ingredients

The obligation of food business operators to identify allergenic substances was introduced in food law as early as in 2003 (by Directive 2003/89/EC). But until Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers was issued, those requirements had applied only to prepacked foods.
Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011 extended the requirement to declare the information on allergens to non-prepacked foods, including prepacked foods for direct sale and meals offered by all types of operators of public catering (e.g. restaurants, fast food, cafés, confectionaries, canteens, student canteens, etc.).
Public caterers' obligation to provide final consumers with information on allergenic substances in meals is specified in detail by Act No. 139/2014 Coll., amending Act No. 110/1997 Coll., on Foodstuffs and Tobacco Products. It comes into force on 1 January 2015.
Food allergens to be declared
Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011 lays down an obligation to provide consumers with information on allergenic substances and products used in the preparation of a food (meal) and still present in the finished product, even if in an altered form.
This information obligation applies to 14 groups of food allergens which are the most frequent cases of allergic reactions in consumers:
  • Cereals containing gluten, namely: wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelt, kamut or their hybridised strains
  • Crustaceans
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Peanuts
  • Soybeans
  • Milk
  • Nuts, namely: almonds (Amygdalus communis L.), hazelnuts (Corylus avellana), walnuts (Juglans regia), cashews (Anacardium occidentale), pecan nuts (Carya illinoinensis (Wangenh.) K. Koch), Brazil nuts (Bertholletia excelsa), pistachio nuts (Pistacia vera), macadamia or Queensland nuts (Macadamia ternifolia)
  • Celery
  • Mustard
  • Sesame seeds
  • Sulphur dioxide
  • Lupin
  • Molluscs

Effect of new requirements
The relevant provisions of Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011 regulating provision of information on allergenic substances will apply as of 13 December 2014.
Possible ways of informing consumers about allergens
The obligation to provide information on allergenic substances used in preparation of meals pursuant to Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011 is specified in Section 9a of Act No. 110/1997 Coll., on Foodstuffs and Tobacco Products, as amended.
Operators are obliged to provide consumers with information on particular allergenic ingredients or products used in preparation of specific meals. The operator may select one of the following ways:
1. Provision of information on allergens on consumer's request
A meal offer (e.g. menu, offer board, etc.) shall include general written information drawing consumer's attention to the option to ask for information on presence of allergens in meals and at the same time informing the consumer about how the information on specific allergens in individual meals will be provided.
Example of such a general written notice:
“Information on presence of specific allergens in meals provided by waiting staff on request.” or other notice with the same meaning for the consumer.
Information on specific allergenic substances contained in individual meals may be subsequently provided pursuant to the Act on Foodstuffs only verbally or it may be available in other visible and legible form.
2. Possible ways of declaring presence of specific allergenic ingredients in meals in writing
Individual allergenic ingredients and products may be specified in the meal offer (menu, offer board, description in immediate vicinity of the meal offer, etc.):
  • as a list of allergenic ingredients behind the word “contains”
A complete list of all ingredients used is not mandatory for meals.
  • in the name of the meal
Where the meal name clearly refers to the respective allergenic substance or product, the allergenic substance does not need to be specified either in the ingredients or behind the word “contains”.
(E.g. where the meal is called “Blue cheese dressing with walnuts”, it is not necessary to provide the following information: “contains: walnuts”).
  • in a list of ingredients
A list of ingredients is not mandatory for meals. But where the operator decides on a voluntary basis to declare allergenic substances present in the meal in a list of ingredients, the ingredients must be specified in accordance with requirements of Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011, i.e. the name of the allergenic substance or product must be highlighted in the list of ingredients so that it is clearly distinguished from the other ingredients (e.g. by font type or style, colour of background, etc.).
General principles of indicating information on allergenic ingredients
Information about allergens contained in the meal must not be misleading, it must be complete, accurate, clear and easy to understand for the consumer:
  • The list of allergens contained in the meal must include allergens contained in additional ingredients of the meal. These are for example non-prepacked foods, e.g. a biscuit or praline served along with coffee. These may be one-portion food packages (e.g. a cup of jam, dressing). One-portion packages which are not a part of the meal and form a separate sales unit, the information on allergenic substances contained therein must be specified directly on its packaging. Provision of information on allergens to the final consumer is based on the information stated on the original food packaging or in accompanying documents.
  • Information on allergens must be provided also in case of drinks falling under meals.
  • Information on allergenic substances contained in a meal must be always up-to-date, i.e. the information must be regularly updated according to changes of the used ingredients, recipes, change of meal offer, non-standard meal alterations, etc.

Information on allergens in sale of meals via means of distance communication
Requirements for provision of information on allergenic ingredients and products in meals offered for sale via means of distance communication (e.g. websites, phone orders) are laid down in Article 14 of Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011.
Mandatory information which must be provided to the consumer in distance selling include information on presence of allergenic substance and the information must be available before the purchase is completed.
Information on specific allergenic substances used in preparation of meals must be available also when the meal is delivered to the consumer (i.e. even if the information has been provided at a stage before completion of the order) – e.g. by a declaration on the transport packaging or other accompanying information, oral information provided by the courier service, etc.
Selling meals on the Internet
Information on allergenic substances in meals can be declared either directly on the website or by other suitable means.
On the website, the information on allergenic substances in individual meals may be provided e.g.:
  • by stating the information directly next to the offer of meal ordering;
  • by reference to the relevant part of the website containing a summary of allergens present in individual meals;
  • by reference to the restaurant's homepage (in case of a website facilitating online orders of meal delivery from various restaurants), etc.
Ordering meals by phone
Where the operator who offers meal ordering by phone does not inform the consumer about presence of specific allergenic substances directly in the menu or other offer, the operator must do the following before the order is completed:
  • inform about the option to ask for information on presence of specific allergens in the offered meals;
  • advise where the information on specific allergens presents in the offered meals can be obtained.

What information should be used as a basis when informing about allergens?
The basic source for provision of information on allergens in meals is the information on ingredients used in preparation of meals. Suppliers of ingredients to public caterers must ensure provision of mandatory information on the allergens present in the form of declaration on the packaging or in the accompanying documents so that this mandatory information can be provided to the final consumer – see Article 8 of Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011.
It is always necessary to carefully check the information on ingredients used, particularly to carefully read through the content of the ingredient which is crucial for identification of allergenic ingredients. It is desirable to systematically check the input ingredients as even a constantly purchased product may have its ingredients changed as a result of product re-formulation and hence the allergenic ingredients present therein may change.
Information on possible unintended presence of allergenic substances as declared by the ingredient producer or supplier should be taken into account.
Monitoring allergenic substances and products within the production process
Monitoring of allergens should form an integral part of the introduced food safety management systems.
Public caterers should prepare and preferably also introduce a system of monitoring allergenic substances within the whole process from meal preparation – starting with taking delivery of ingredients and ending with delivery of the finished meal to the consumer (e.g. a written or electronic record in the recipes used, in the software used, a record of non-standard procedures, etc.).
The procedures must be regularly updated, e.g. on the basis of an extended offer of meals, change of recipes, change of ingredient supplier, etc.
Measures to prevent unintentional presence of allergenic substances in food
Applicable food safety management systems should include taking of preventive measures in order to eliminate unintentional contamination of meals with allergenic substances or products (time or space separation of some operations, cleaning of the manufacturing equipment, tools and work surfaces when switching to a different production operation, or reservation of separate work tools and sections).
Voluntary preventive labelling
In some cases, the risk of unintentional contamination cannot be fully eliminated despite the fact that the operator takes appropriate preventive measures. In these cases, it is up to the operator whether he warns consumers of the risk of unintentional contamination in the form of the so-called voluntary preventive labelling: “it may contain…”, “it may contain traces of…” or “it may contain trace amount of…”.