Food allergens and intolerances

Food Allergens

Some people are allergic to particular foods or ingredients in foods. If they eat or have contact with these foods, they may have an allergic reaction, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe to life-threatening. All food businesses should be aware of food allergens in order to protect their customers and avoid legal consequences.

Standard 1.2.3 of the Australian New Zealand Food Standards Code makes it a legal requirement to clearly declare allergen ingredients on packaged foods. It is recommended that allergen ingredients are bolded and/or highlighted to ensure that they are clearly visible.

For unpackaged foods, the law requires that accurate food allergen information be provided to the customer upon request. Care must be given to ensuring menus and other advertising materials are true and correct.

One way to enable this information to be accurately provided is to develop and maintain an allergen matrix for all menu items or food produced by the food business. An allergen matrix(PDF, 122KB) clearly lists common allergens in foods prepared at the food business in a simple table that makes it easy for staff to read and convey to the customer.

It is difficult for a food business to completely eliminate all food allergens from their food business. To reduce your risk and provide the most accurate ingredient and allergen information, each food business should consider the recommendations in the Shire's food allergen fact file(PDF, 123KB) and watch the food allergens training video.

Gluten Free Foods

Many food retailers advertise “gluten free” foods, either on menus or as packaged foods labelled as “gluten free”. This information will help retailers protect customers from adverse reactions to gluten.

The presence of gluten in retail food products is regulated under the Food Act 1984 (Vic) (“the Act”) and the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (“the Standards”). Standard 1.2.3 requires that food businesses include on labels of pre-packaged food a declaration if gluten is present. No safe or “trace” level of gluten is listed in the Standards.

Further, the Act requires that food businesses inform customers on request if any gluten is present in food. Food businesses must also ensure their menus, displays and other advertising materials are true and correct.

The presence of gluten in food can cause reactions in those with an intolerance to gluten and can cause severe reactions in those with coeliac disease.

If gluten is not declared to a customer (on a label or on request) it would be a breach of the Act and Standards. Food businesses that offer “gluten free” food items must ensure that no gluten is present in these items. It is recommended that an allergen management plan be developed by suitably qualified food safety consultant if you wish to prepare and sell gluten free foods.