What are the 14 Allergens?

Did you know that there are 14 major allergens that are controlled by legislation in the UK and EU? If you’re the owner of a food business, it’s essential that you’re aware of what these allergens are, and how you can avoid cross-contamination when preparing and serving food.

What is an Allergen?

An allergen is a substance that can cause an allergic reaction. Allergens are usually proteins, and when they enter the body, they trigger the production of antibodies. These antibodies attach themselves to cells in the body, and when the allergen comes into contact with these cells, it causes an allergic reaction that can lead to a number of symptoms, including:

  • itchiness
  • swelling
  • difficulty breathing
  • nausea
  • hives

In severe cases, allergens can trigger anaphylactic shock, which can be life-threatening. This is why it’s so important for food businesses to take allergens seriously and put procedures in place to avoid cross-contamination.

The 14 Major Allergens

In the UK and EU, there are 14 allergens that must be declared on food labels if they are present in the product.

Here are all 14 allergens, along with some of the forms and foods that they are commonly found in:


multiple pieces of celery

Celery is a vegetable, spice, and allergen that is often found in soups, stews and salads. It can also be used as a garnish on various dishes.

Celery seed is also used as a seasoning, providing a pungent, earthy taste, and is one of the two main ingredients in “celery salt”.

Celeriac is a variety of celery that is grown for its edible root, which has a mild but distinctive flavour. It is often used as a vegetable or in soups and stews.


Cereals containing gluten

mixed cereals

Many of the common cereals found in our foods contain gluten. These include wheat (such as spelt and Kamut), rye, barley, and oats.

This category covers both wheat and gluten allergies, though wheat allergies are the most common. Wheat is found in a wide variety of foods, from bread and pasta to pizza and cakes.

Another condition that prevents gluten consumption is Celiac disease, which is not an allergy but an autoimmune disorder that affects the digestive system. People with celiac disease also cannot eat gluten, as it will damage their intestines.



close-up of cooked prawns

Crustaceans are a group of animals that includes crabs, lobsters, prawns and shrimps. They all have a hard exoskeleton, and many people are allergic to the protein found in their shells.

In addition to being the main ingredients in dishes, crustaceans are also often used as a garnish or to add flavour. For example, shrimp paste in East Asian cooking.





egg and whisk

Eggs are a common ingredient in many foods, such as cakes, mayonnaise, pasta and quiche. They are also used as a binding agent or leavening agent in some recipes.

Some people with an egg allergy are allergic to the proteins found in egg whites, while others are allergic to the proteins found in egg yolks. Allergic reactions to egg whites are more common, but both require labelling.





Fish is a popular food all over the world, and there are many different ways to prepare it. It can be baked, grilled, fried or smoked.

People with fish allergies should avoid all types of fish, as even a small amount can cause a reaction. Fish oils and fish sauce are also common ingredients in many dishes and must be marked on food labels.





lupin beans

Lupin beans are the seeds of the lupin plant and are a type of legume. They are often used as a source of protein in vegetarian diets, as it contains all the essential amino acids. Lupin beans are also high in fibre and are gluten-free.

Lupin flour is sometimes used in gluten-free products as an alternative to regular wheat flour.






pouring milk into glass

Milk is a dairy product that is made from the milk of mammals. It is a common ingredient in many foods, such as cheese, ice cream, milk powders, and yoghurt.

Milk allergies are the most common food allergy in young children, but can also be present in adults. Milk proteins are found in all dairy products, so these must be labelled accordingly.

Lactose intolerance differs from a milk allergy, as no allergic reaction is involved. People with lactose intolerance cannot digest the sugar in milk, which causes symptoms such as stomach cramps and diarrhoea.





Molluscs are a group of animals that includes oysters, mussels, squid and snails. They are often used as a source of food, and their shells can also be used to make jewellery and other decorative items.

Like crustaceans, they are also shellfish.

Oyster sauce is a common condiment in East Asian cuisine, made from oysters, soy sauce and sugar. It is used as a flavouring agent in various dishes.





distant picture of mustard being squeezed onto hotdog

Mustard is a spice that is often used in food. It has a strong flavour and can be used in many different dishes.

“Mustard” commonly refers to the yellow-coloured condiment that is made from the seeds of the mustard plant. It is often used as a flavouring or as a sandwich spread.





bowl of peanuts

Peanuts are a type of legume that is often used in savoury dishes, such as satay sauce and Thai green curry. They can also be used in sweet dishes, such as peanut cookies, as well as peanut butter and “peanut flour”.

Despite their name, peanuts are not actually nuts. They are legumes, which means they are related to beans and lentils.

People with peanut allergies are not necessarily allergic to “true nuts”, though tree nut allergies are more common in those with a peanut allergy. Peanut allergy affects around 1 in 50 children in the UK, and often remains into adulthood.



Sesame Seeds

sesame seeds

Sesame seeds are a type of seed that is often used in Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine. They can be used whole, or ground into a paste known as tahini.

Buns and other bread products that are coated in sesame seeds are a common source of allergens.

Sesame oil is a type of vegetable oil that is made from sesame seeds. It has a strong flavour and is often used in Asian cuisine.




tofu with soy sauce

Soya is a type of bean that is often used as a meat replacement, such as in soy burgers. Foods such as tofu and tempeh have become popular in recent years, and are made from soya.

Soya flour is a type of flour that is made from ground soya beans. It is often used in gluten-free baking and has a nutty flavour.

Soya lecithin is a type of emulsifier that is made from soya beans. It is often used in food production to help keep ingredients mixed together.

It is also used to make soy milk, which is a popular alternative to dairy milk.



Sulphur dioxide and sulphites (at concentrations of more than 10mg/kg in the finished product)

dried apricots

Sulphites are a group of chemicals that are added to food as a preservative. They are often found in dried fruit, wine and processed foods.

There are many people who are sensitive to sulphites, especially those with asthma, and they can experience symptoms similar to an allergic reaction when they consume them.



Tree nuts

tree nuts

Tree nuts are a category of hard fruit that grow on trees. These include most common nuts such as almonds, Brazil nuts, pistachio nuts, pecan nuts, hazelnuts and walnuts. They are often used in baking and cooking, as well as being eaten on their own as a snack.

Nut oils and nut butters made from tree nuts are used as replacements for dairy products, such as in vegan cooking, but are also used in some traditional dishes.

People with tree nut allergies are not always allergic to peanuts, though peanut allergies are more common in those with a tree nut allergy.



Avoiding cross-contamination

When it comes to allergens, food businesses need to be especially vigilant in order to avoid cross-contamination. This means taking steps to prevent any contact between allergenic and non-allergenic foods, and ensuring that all equipment and surfaces are clean and sanitised.

There are a number of ways to achieve this:

1. Use separate utensils for preparing different types of food.

2. Make sure all surfaces are clean and free of contamination before use.

3. Wash hands thoroughly and often, using soap and hot water.

4. Avoid using the same ingredients in different dishes.

5. Train staff on how to handle allergens safely.