Food outlets should list all ingredients in order to protect customers with allergies, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has proposed.
The FSA has recommended ministers adopt strict new rules, which include highlighting the 14 major allergens.
The proposals follow the death in 2016 of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who had eaten a sandwich from Pret a Manger.
Pret a Manger has already started rolling out full labelling on all its products.
FSA chairwoman Heather Hancock said the FSA had chosen the strictest of the options they had under discussion because “ultimately this is a life-threatening issue for a proportion of the population”.
However she acknowledged that there was a risk that business might find the new rules onerous and might consider not serving people with allergies altogether.
“We are balancing consumer protection, public health protection, with the ability of people being able to deliver good business service and choice for people with an allergy or intolerance,” she said.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will have the final say over whether new rules are introduced.
The FSA board discussed several options, ranging from promoting best practice in the food industry to forcing firms to list the 14 most common allergens.
If ministers choose to proceed with the recommendation, food outlets will be required to provide a full list of ingredients on each product, highlighting nuts, eggs and dairy and other products that are frequent allergens. However sandwich shops that make up food at the point of sale will not have to provide the labelling, since it is assumed a conversation will take place between staff and customer.
Ms Hancock said businesses had voiced objections to the proposal, saying it would push up costs. She said the intention was to provide the food industry with the time to implement the changes, and to provide support for smaller businesses.
The proposed changes follow the death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who had an allergy to sesame seeds and died after eating a sandwich from Pret a Manger.
Her death focused public attention on food allergen labelling. At the moment food prepared on the same site it is sold, doesn’t have to have warning labels about allergens, because it is assumed anyone who needs to know will ask the staff who made it about the food’s ingredients.
Ms Hancock said it was impossible to eliminate risk entirely and that food safety relied on a “layering up” of protection, by providing labelling, staff training and customers taking personal responsibility.