A woman in a red jumper looking at a menu in a nice restaurant

Source: Getty Images / Hispanolistic

Coffee shops and restaurants should have to publish allergy information on their menus, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has said.

At a board meeting last week the FSA agreed that written allergen information should be mandated in the non-prepacked sector and said it would write to ministers to discuss this.

In the meantime, the FSA said it would work to develop strong guidance for food businesses on how to provide written allergen information to help drive up compliance and make it easier for people with a food allergy, intolerance, and coeliac disease to protect themselves when eating out.

In addition to providing written information, the board acknowledged that there should be an expectation for a verbal conversation to take place between customers and food business staff, to ensure an added layer of protection for consumers.

“It was clear that the board feel that we should set an expectation that food businesses like coffee shops and restaurants provide allergen information in writing as well as having a conversation,” said FSA chair professor Susan Jebb. “The board also considers that to maximise the likelihood of this happening, written information should be a legal requirement, rather than just guidance.”

Free webinar: Allergen management – safety across the bakery supply chain

Jebb added that she will write to ministers in England and Wales, the Permanent Secretary in Northern Ireland and her counterpart at Food Standards Scotland in the hopes of taking the action forward on a four-country basis.

“Meanwhile I want us to do all we can in the FSA to provide guidance and support to business so that we can quickly start to make improvements that will be helpful for people with food hypersensitivities when they are eating out,” Jebb added.

The action from the FSA follows calls for Owen’s Law – a campaign launched by the family of a teenager who died after suffering an allergic reaction to a chicken burger which had been marinated in buttermilk, to which he was highly allergic.

The campaign is similar to the one which resulted in the introduction of Natasha’s Law. Officially known as the UK Food Information Amendment 2019, it came into force in October 2021 and requires businesses selling prepacked for direct sale (PPDS) food to attach a label containing the name of the product and a full ingredients list to each item, with allergens emphasised on the list.

Allergen management remains top of the food safety agenda although a report by the FSA earlier this year found that only 68% of firms feel they have the information needed to adhere Natasha’s Law.