Whether you’re in a high-class restaurant or snatching a quick sausage from an all-night stall, you’ll likely see one or more capital letters next to the food and dishes found in menus or on display boards. Like this:
This is not some obscure coded message designed to confuse foreigners. Each capital letter simply stands for a particular ingredient found in that food or dish. Not just any ingredient, but “substances or products causing allergies or intolerances”.
EU law demands the communication of this allergy information to ensure, for example, that you don’t find your holiday ruined by an unfortunate gastronomic encounter.
Outlets may chose to do so in the menu itself. Hence all those letters. Here’s the list typically used in Viennese establishments:
- A (Cereals containing gluten)
- B (Crustaceans)
- C (Eggs)
- D (Fish)
- E (Peanuts)
- F (Soja)
- G (Milk and/or lactose)
- H (Nuts)
- L (Celery)
- M (Mustard)
- N (Sesame seed)
- O (Sulphur dioxide and sulphites)
- P (Lupins)
- R (Molluscs)
Sometimes you may find numbers used instead of letters – whatever code is used, the corresponding key should be available somewhere.
In a few outlets you may not see any capital letters on menus. This does not mean the allergens are absent, just that they have chosen not to communicate the required information in this way.
You may find the allergy information only posted on the wall or above the counter. Or the outlet may have trained its staff to clarify what’s in what on request. (If a restaurant, bar or similar chooses the latter option, then they must make it clear you can ask).
Also, the information may be absent if it’s blatantly obvious. There is no requirement for a restaurant to indicate that your egg salad with mustard dressing actually contains egg and mustard: the clue is in the name.
P.S. The list corresponds to the 14 categories given in Annex 2 of the EU’s regulation covering the provision of food information to consumers. If you have food allergies or intolerances, check the original document for fuller details of what each category does and does not cover.