FSA Letter (CPD/027), 19 March 2009
Firstly may I start by thanking all of you who responded to the Agency’s consultation on the new gluten Regulations. The information provided is extremely helpful and has informed our thinking.
Whilst stakeholders understand that the regulations have been adopted as a consumer safety measure, there remains concern that caterers will be unable to comply with compositional standards in the Regulation (due to the risk of cross-contamination in kitchens) and therefore will be unable to sell foods described as ‘gluten free’ or ‘very low gluten’. There are also concerns as to what information can be provided on foods that do not contain gluten ingredients, but may not meet the compositional requirements of the new Regulations. These foods can constitute a large proportion of the normal daily diet for coeliacs. Therefore it is essential that sufficient information can be provided to enable coeliacs to make informed decisions and ensure we do not further restrict their dietary choice.
The Agency understands these concerns and has been working with key stakeholders to develop a way forward, which would help protect the health of coeliacs whilst not unduly restricting their dietary choices and that is practical for businesses. Where it is not possible to claim ‘gluten-free’, businesses will be able to provide factual information about foods that do not contain any gluten containing ingredients. Since it will not be possible, without testing, to know if these foods meet the compositional requirements of the new Regulation (e.g. due to cross-contamination), the use of factual statements must not indicate suitability for coeliacs or mention levels of gluten. Such statements should only be used where steps have been taken to minimise cross-contamination. An example of a permitted statement is ‘No gluten containing ingredients’.
As part of our continued stakeholder engagement the Agency held a meeting on 10 March to discuss the impact of the Regulation on the catering sector. The key points of discussion are outlined below..
Everyone agrees that in practice the majority of caterers will not be able to claim that their menu items are ‘gluten-free’ due to cross-contamination. Caterers are wary of using factual statements – especially the phrase ‘we have taken steps to minimise cross-contamination’ Caterers want further guidance on what would be expected in terms of risk assessment/good practice in order to demonstrate due diligence and to avoid prosecution. There is a need to assess whether caterers who currently provide gluten-free meals would have to do anything additional to current practices in terms of risk assessment/good practice, in order to use the factual statements. At this stage it is thought that no changes would be required as a result of the regulations, other than substituting the words ‘gluten-free’ or ‘suitable for coeliacs’ with a factual statement.
A summary of consultation responses will be published on our website by end of March (http://www.food.gov.uk/consultations/) The Agency will include advice on due diligence in the guidance to compliance. The Agency will circulate a revised draft of the guidance to compliance for comment by end of May, with a view to publishing the final Statutory Instrument and guidance to compliance in the summer. The Agency will setup an e-working group (to commence work shortly) to draft an addendum/annex to the food allergy best practice guidance on ‘The Provision of Allergen Information for Non Pre-packed Foods’ to include a scenario on how to manage gluten in a kitchen. We will seek to involve the relevant interested parties in this group, namely retailers, manufacturers, caterers (including public sector caterers), catering suppliers, consumers and enforcers. If you would be like to be involved in this working group please contact the FSA
The Agency will provide concise and simple educational material for caterers/consumers and enforcement officers to ensure they understand the new rules.