Food allergy information

Food allergy information is required in the Mensas and cafeterias of Studierendenwerk Thüringen from 13.12.14. As a result of this we have put together a list of possible questions regarding the listing of allergy information.

These questions and answers are also available to read and print out here as a pdf (in german). For further information please contact Anja Pforte in the department for Mensas and cafeterias.

What you should know about listing of food allergy information:

1. Why is food allergy information now being listed? What information was given before in the Mensas and cafeterias of Studierendenwerk Thüringen?

Up until now the only legal obligation to provide allergy information was for pre-packaged food products. Here the fourteen most common allergens must be listed if used as an ingredient in the respective food product. In some cases, even the smallest amount of a substance can result in a life-threatening allergic reaction. If someone has an allergy it can be very worrying to consume food not prepared themselves and risk an allergic reaction. To improve the quality of life of those suffering from allergies, listing of allergens is required by EU law from 13.12.14 including on 'unpackaged' food such as that served in Mensas, butcher's shops and bakeries.

2. What is a food intolerance? What is the difference between an allergy and an intolerance?

With an allergy, the body produces antibodies against completely harmless substances, for example food products. If this substance is consumed repeatedly it can result in a serious defensive reaction from the body, such as difficulty in breathing, breakout of hives, itching and inflammation of the skin or mucus tissue, problems of the digestive tract or circulation or even a loss of consciousness. There are various types of food intolerance which occur upon the consumption of food additives, milk sugar or fruit sugar. Here the immune system is not involved. Food intolerances are more likely to result in digestive problems (lactose or fruit sugar intolerance) or in skin conditions (food additive intolerances).

3. Do all food outlets in Germany have to list allergy information?

The new EU food information act (Regulation 1169/2011) requires for all food products served to the public to be labeled according to their allergen content. This applies to restaurants, canteens and even for small snack bars.

4. What is an allergen? And who is this labelling important for?

The term 'allergen' refers to various tiny protein structures found in, for example, vegetables and animal products. Normally these proteins are harmless, but if the immune system builds antibodies against these substances, contact with them can result in a serious reaction. Because the only way to deal with such an allergy is to avoid the substance completely, it is important for allergy sufferers to be able to make sure that an allergen is not present in food which they have not prepared themselves.

5. Which allergens are listed?

The following fourteen most common food allergens are listed:

  1. Cereals containing gluten and their derivatives (wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelt and kamut)
  2. Shellfish and shellfish derivatives
  3. Eggs and egg derivatives
  4. Fish and fish derivatives
  5. Peanuts and their derivatives
  6. Soya and soya derivatives
  7. Milk and milk derivatives
  8. Nuts and nut products (almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews, pecan nuts, pistachio nuts, Brazil nuts, Macadamia/Queensland nuts)
  9. Celery and celery derivatives
  10. Mustard and mustard derivatives
  11. Sesame seeds and their derivatives
  12. Sulfur dioxide and sulfite (above 10mg/kg or 10 mg/L) and their derivatives
  13. Lupines and their derivatives
  14. Molluscs and their derivatives

6. Are possible traces of allergens also listed?

According to the 1169/2011 EU act, allegens are only to be listed if used as an ingredient in a food product, in no matter what quantity (except sulfur dioxide). Contamination from traces of allergens are not legally required to be listed. Because in a large kitchen environment it is not possible to avoid cross-contamination, traces of allergens are not listed by Studierendenwerk Thüringen.

7. Are allergens destroyed above a certain temperature?

There is no scientific proof of at what temperature, and after how long, all allergens in a food product are destroyed. The lipid transfer protein, present in peanuts, lupines, celery and other fruit, vegetable and nut products, as well as the storage protein, most common in peanuts, are extremely resistant to heat and processing. For this reason, some allergy sufferers experience a serious reaction even when a food product is cooked. These proteins are still active after heating at 100°C and can cause a serious, lethal reaction (anaphylaxis).

Even with heat-labile proteins (including nearly all types of fruit and vegetables and also in nuts) it cannot be sure at what temperature the allergens become 'deactivated'. For example if hazelnuts are roasted at 140°C for 40 minutes, an allergic reaction is still caused in 5 out of 17 sufferers.

8. Are allergens present in all food products? Are allergen-free products also available?

Theoretically, nearly all types of food contain structures which can cause an allergic reaction. However only the fourteen most common allergens are required to be listed. Because all of these fourteen allergens are used in our outlets, it is not possible to completely avoid cross-contamination. For the safety of our guests, we do not offer any 'allergen-free' food products.

9. How does Studierendenwerk Thüringen make sure that allergens are labelled correctly?

All products purchased by and delivered to facilities must be labelled correctly by the producer. These listings are put into a database and allow for a correct labelling of recipes. 

These recipes must be strictly adhered to. Furthermore, all members of staff are trained in correct hygiene standards which must be upheld before, during and after each step of food preparation. However despite these measures we cannot rule out the risk of cross-contamination.

10. Which processes are important for correct labelling of allergens?

The purchasing staff are responsible for food products to be correctly labelled with the fourteen allergens listed and that staff are promptly informed of any changes, either by producers or suppliers, to ingredients. This declaration of products is the basis of the declaration of all meals provided. Storage and kitchen personnel are trained in ensuring that correct allergen labelling takes place through the separated storage, preparation and cooking of meals and in the upholding of recipes and hygiene standards.

In order to locate sources of error and keep to guidelines, all food processes are checked regularly.

11. Is there an emergency plan should a guest suffer from an allergic reaction?

For allergic reactions the principles of first aid still apply. It is important for every member of staff to know a central telephone number by which a doctor can be reached.

12. How can I be sure that members of staff are qualified to answer any questions I may have?

All members of staff in facilities are specifically trained in the EU food information act (Reg. 1169/2011). Furthermore they are provided with information to refer to outside of regular training courses. Members of staff are also expressly informed that the best way to avoid cross-contamination in the kitchen is good organisation and the upholding of hygiene standards.

13. How are guests in Studierendenwerk Thüringen food outlets informed of allergy listings?

The objective of the new food labelling act is to allow allergy sufferers to be informed of the presence of the fourteen most common allergies without having to ask specially, thus being able to make an informed decision about the food they buy.

There are various ways for guests to inform themselves in advance about menus, including reading notice boards and checking online. Guests will find all allergen listings directly on products within food outlets.

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