FSAI ‘majorly concerned’ at lack of allergen information by food businesses

The food authority is launching a new information campaign

FSAI ‘majorly concerned’ at lack of allergen information by food businesses

File photo showing the allergy warning on the back of a bag of roasted salted nuts | Image: Chris Radburn/PA

A new audit has found almost 32% of Irish food businesses do not provide any written allergen information.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) took a representative sample of 50 food service businesses - including cafés, hotels, public houses, restaurants and takeaways - to see if correct written allergen information was being provided.

All food businesses are legally obliged to provide consumers with accurate written information in relation to 14 allergens.

Of the food business that provided written information, just 24% actually provided accurate allergen information.

The FSAI found 26 premises had either left out a foodstuff, or incorrectly recorded the allergen content of the food.

While most food businesses audited (88%) had findings that required corrective action.

The FSAI says it is concerned that many of the food businesses that had not provided written allergen information said they did not realise the information must be made available without a consumer having to ask for it.

In some cases, the FSAI found that information had been provided - but it was either inaccurate or not easily accessible for consumers without staff assistance.

Many of the food businesses audited used online delivery companies or provided takeaway services, but there was no information provided to their customers on the allergen content of the food being ordered and delivered.

Three in every 100 people in Ireland have a food allergy and require accurate information about the food they purchase to avoid serious, and sometimes fatal, health consequences.

On foot of the findings, the FSAI has announced a national information campaign for eight weeks.

This will run across online, broadcast and print media - with messages to highlight the potential consequences missing or inaccurate allergen information can have.

Confusion and lack of awareness

Dr Pamela Byrne, chief executive of the FSAI, says the findings are ‘very worrying’ as they show a lack of awareness or willingness by food businesses to prioritise the safety of people with food allergies two years after the law came into effect.

"Allergic reactions to food make people ill and in particular situations can be fatal.

"Whether consumers are eating out, getting takeaways or having food delivered to their home or workplace, food businesses have a legal obligation to provide accurate food allergen information in writing.

"The level of non-compliance we have identified through this audit is a cause for major concern.

"Food businesses must take action immediately to protect public health and to comply with the law.

"The FSAI and enforcement officials have provided a significant level of resources and support to assist food businesses to understand the food allergens they work with on a daily basis and how they can meet their legal obligations."

FSAI chief executive Dr Pamela Byrne poses with some of the new campaign posters | Image: FSAI

The FSAI found that some of the reasons put forward by food businesses for non-compliance included confusion and lack of awareness about the food allergens that must be declared.

Some of the food businesses audited had hired consultants to help put allergen information in place.

But they still did not fully understand the health risks posed by the allergens and that providing written allergen information to consumers was an on-going process, rather than just a once-off project.

On the new nationwide campaign, Dr Byrne said: "Food businesses must take their legal responsibilities seriously, particularly where the health of consumers is at stake.

"We are undertaking a nationwide campaign to raise awareness by the food industry of the consumer health risks posed by allergic reactions and that they need to take immediate action.”

The campaign is supported by Health Service Executive (HSE) environmental health officers throughout the country.

They will be visiting food businesses to remind them of their legal obligation to provide allergen information in writing.

"The HSE will take enforcement action, when it is deemed appropriate or necessary," Dr Byrne added.

More information can be found here