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Last updated: 18.07.19

Effective Food Allergen Training For Food Handlers

Why is Food Allergy training so important?

Each year in the UK, around ten people die from anaphylaxis caused by a food allergy, and many others experience severe illness. It is important therefore that customers with known food allergies or intolerances can make an informed choice when choosing to eat out from restaurants and takeaways, or when purchasing from a retailer, to help reduce their risk of exposure to food allergens. In this article, we’re going to take a quick look at some of the important points that effective allergen training should include.

What are the main 14 food allergens?

It’s important for anyone undergoing training to understand what the particular risks are. In the UK there are currently fourteen allergens which must be clearly stated if they are present in the food. These 14 allergens are:

  • Celery
  • Cereals containing gluten - including wheat, rye, barley and oats
  • Crustaceans - such as prawns, lobster and crabs
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Lupin
  • Milk
  • Molluscs - such as mussels and oysters
  • Mustard
  • Nuts - including almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios and macadamia nuts
  • Peanuts
  • Sesame seeds
  • Soybeans
  • Sulphur dioxide and sulphites

Looking for in depth Food Allergen Training? Click here to view our online training.

Allergen labelling and knowledge requirements

When working in the kitchen, all staff need to have awareness of food allergens in the food they prepare and be aware of the policies and procedures in place. Different rules apply for different food products, and are divided into pre-packed and non-prepacked (loose) foods.

Pre-packed food

For prepacked foods, or foods that are put into packaging before being sold, an ingredients list must be available with the product and any allergenic ingredients must be emphasised (e.g. underlined or in bold) every time they appear on the ingredients list.

Non-prepacked (loose)

Non-prepacked (loose) foods include many different food products, such as bread sold in a bakery, pick and mix confectionery and meals served in restaurants and takeaways. If you’re preparing non-prepacked foods, you will need to be aware of allergen information for every item that contains any of the 14 allergens.

The allergen information for each recipe should be documented, be kept up to date and included in any explanation of the dishes provided. These allergens must be included on ingredients labels, and ingredients should be kept in either the original containers or re-labelled to reflect their contents.


In the kitchen or food preparation area there are many ways that foods can become contaminated with allergens, despite not containing the allergen in its original ingredients. To help prevent cross contamination of food allergens, allergen containing ingredients should be kept separately - for example in closed, sealed and properly labelled containers. Allergen cross contamination can also occur using shared equipment such as deep fat fryers - for example, to cook gluten free chips you can’t use the same oil which has been previously used to cook battered fish. Any dressings or garnishes for the dish needs to be considered, too.

Allergen-free dishes should be prepared on separate work surfaces, chopping board and with separate utensils. These utensils must be cleaned thoroughly before use, especially if they have been used previously to prepare food containing allergens.

Top Food Allergy FAQs


What are the required label elements?

Prepackaged food needs to have an ingredients list that emphasises allergenic ingredients, for example by making them bold. If there is a risk of cross-contamination in the production process, the packaging needs to say that it ‘may contain x’ or is ‘not suitable for someone with x allergy’.

What are three things required on a workplace label?

The three things that need to be on a WHMIS workplace label are the product name (matching the one included on the Safety Data Sheet); safe handling precautions, which may include pictograms or other supplier label information; and a reference to the Safety Data Sheet.

What information has to be on a food label?

The product name, safe handling precautions, which may include pictograms or other supplier label information; and a reference to the Safety Data Sheet should be included on a food label.

What information would you find on a Whmis label?

There are two types of WHMIS label used: a supplier label and a workplace label. Supplier labels must include a pictogram hazard symbol, a signal word, and statements about the nature of the hazard and precautions that can be taken. Workplace labels include product name; safe handling precautions, which may include pictograms or other supplier label information; and a reference to the Safety Data Sheet.


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Food Information for Consumers Regulation 2014

The most important piece of legislation currently in force when it comes to allergens in food is the Food Information for Consumers Regulation 2014. This is an EU ruling designed to help make sure that people who suffer from allergies can quickly, easily and reliably determine which foods are safe or not safe for them to eat. This is a critically important piece of law that was put in place to reduce serious illnesses and deaths that result from consuming allergens - it is a critical health matter. Failure to adhere to this legislation can in some case result in criminal prosecution, so it is very important that all relevant employees within the catering sector understand it.

The primary requirement for the Food Information for Consumers Regulation 2014 is that items containing any of the 14 primary allergens must be clearly labelled on pre-packaged food so that consumers know what they are purchasing. We will cover these 14 allergens in the final section of this article. There are also some specifics around the way products are labelled, such as the requirement for allergens to be clearly distinguished from normal ingredients. These specifications can be read in official documentation on the subject.

Further information

Employers need to ensure that all staff working with food have adequate training and are aware of allergenic ingredients that are present in the foods you sell, as well as the procedures and policies of your business when it comes to handling allergen information requests. Virtual College offers a comprehensive Level 1 course food allergen training for food handlers, which is available here. Other members of staff who don’t handle food directly, such as those working in a restaurant or takeaway, may also find our Food Allergy Awareness course useful for information and training purposes, click here to find out more.

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