CONSUMERS will get much clearer information about what's in their food under stringent new labelling rules being introduced by the European Union.
Current rules cause much confusion, prompting hundreds of calls to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland each year.
Allergy sufferers will be the big winners as restaurants and cafes will have to indicate the presence of foods that could cause a reaction. At the moment, this is only required for prepackaged food.
From 2014, all food sold loose, including in restaurants and deli counters, must have a label indicating if it contains products such as nuts, shellfish, egg white and milk – all common causes of allergic reactions.
Prepackaged food will have to display nutritional information, as currently this is optional unless the product makes a claim such as "reduced fat".
However, this will not be enforced until 2016 to give the industry time to prepare.
The FSAI held a seminar yesterday to brief food businesses on the changes.
Businesses will be expected to provide more detailed information on food on labels and also in internet marketing.
Labels in foreign languages, the absence of best-before dates and overly broad warnings on the potential presence of allergens were among the topics which irked consumers and prompted complaints, said FSAI head of information services Edel Conway.
The FSAI has received 914 queries on labelling to its advice line already this year, most of which were from the food industry, with another 137 complaints received from consumers.
People complained about ridiculous labels such as "may contain allergens" or "does not contain nuts" on bottles of water, which though not illegal, clearly weren't helpful to shoppers, said Ms Conway.
Terms such as "produced in Ireland" for cheese that had been imported but then merely sliced in Ireland also irked consumers, but again were technically permitted under current legislation, she said.
Country-of-origin labelling is currently only mandatory for beef, fish, honey, olive oil, fresh fruit and vegetables but will be extended to cover ham, lamb, goat meat and poultry under the new measures.
Frozen fish and meat labels will also have to indicate the date when the product was frozen.