The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has advised that increased allergen information should be provided on pre-packed direct sale food to “give consumers greater confidence in the food they eat”.
The board also set out priorities as part of an ambition to make the UK the best place for food hypersensitive consumers, which includes those with food allergies and intolerance.
At a public meeting, the board agreed on advice for ministers that full ingredient labelling should be mandatory for all pre-packed food for direct sale.
Prepacked foods for direct sale are foods that have been packed on the same premises from which they are being sold. For example, a packaged sandwich or salad made by staff earlier in the day and placed on a shelf for purchase.
The FSA agreed with allergic consumers that full ingredient labelling would deliver a significant improvement, and greater consistency by following the same labelling system that consumers are familiar with, as found on packaged food.
It is now up to ministers to make a final decision on the proposal.
The FSA chair, Heather Hancock said: “Food allergies and intolerance affects millions of people and its impact can be as big or bigger than almost all other foodborne diseases. That is why we have concluded that more extensive food labelling is the right outcome to provide greater protection for consumers but introduced in a way that we can be confident will work.
“While it is impossible to eliminate the risks entirely, we consider that this change along with other measures we are prioritising will deliver more effective protection for allergic consumers.”
However, hospitality trade body UKHospitality has said the government “should not act on the FSA’s recommendations” as it claimed the full listing of ingredients would cause “significant issues” for businesses.
Chief executive Kate Nicholls said full listing could create a reliance on labelling and “false sense of security” as mis-labelling and cross-contact could not be avoided. She also said it could put smaller business off from making food on-site, resulting in less choice for customers and faster perishing products.
Nicholls said: “Many businesses have already implemented their own measures to ensure that customers remain safe, and the industry continues to work with stakeholders, including the FSA, on the issue.
“However, full ingredient labelling is not the way forward. Creating an atmosphere where customers and staff feel confident discussing allergens is the best way to ensuring safety.”
She added: “The majority of hospitality businesses are small businesses and full labelling is not something that can be carried out accurately or effectively by chefs in a busy kitchen; nor can it be done by other members of staff who would need technical expertise to do so.
“The best way to keep customers safe is by empowering them to talk to staff members with the confidence that the information they receive is accurate and useful. We should not be discouraging customers from discussing allergens by relying on labelling alone.”