Restaurants and cafés are being warned that they face being hit with a hefty fine or civil action if they are not ready when new European regulations are enforced later this year.

New regulations on food labelling which require allergens such as peanuts and shellfish to be clearly signposted on food were published in December 2011 – and manufacturers have been given until December 2014 to comply with their provisions.

But many cafés, restaurants and catering businesses may be unaware that the regulations also apply to them. Even when they are serving up food that has been removed from its packaging, staff should be ready to answer questions on ingredients and about which allergens may be present.

Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011 specifically requires 14 separate allergens to be highlighted in ingredients lists and is part of a raft of new measures aimed at making sure consumers know exactly what their food contains.

Solicitor Nikki Hutchins, an expert in food safety regulations at law firm Blake Lapthorn, warns that business including cafes, restaurants, pubs and even mobile caterers which fail to comply will leave themselves vulnerable to legal action, and the possibility of a fine in the criminal courts.

Nikki said: “This legislation specifically requires allergens to be highlighted in ingredients lists on food packaging – but restaurants, cafes and takeways may not know that the new rules also carry huge implications for any business that serves food to its customers as they also apply to food served without packaging.

“Business owners and their staff should be ready to quickly and accurately answer questions on which allergens are present in the dishes on offer. It may be helpful to have a list of ingredients for each menu item at hand to ensure that the information is readily available.

“Businesses should always be ready for the possibility that they may be inspected by their local Environmental Health officers – and failure could carry a fine of up to £5,000 per offence. Perhaps more worryingly, they leave themselves open to legal action if they serve up food containing allergens to an allergy sufferer who has asked for information about ingredients and has ordered in reliance of incorrect information.

“Business owners who are unsure about the rules and how they might be affected should make sure they take advice well before they begin to be enforced in December to ensure they are compliant with the new regulations.”

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