FSA asks for guidance on “may contain” allergen labels

Posted: 29 March 2023 | | No comments yet

The Food Standards Agency has asked for views and advice for how and when to apply for precautionary allergen labelling on food packaging.

label check

Seeking consumer insight, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has asked for advice when for how and when to apply for precautionary allergen labelling (PAL).

This form of labelling is commonly referred to as “may contain” on food packaging, something that indicates to consumers that a product potentially has traces of an allergen.

New advice states that food businesses should specify which of the 14 major allergens their PAL refers to. The FSA has also recommended that PAL should only be applied following a risk assessment “to ensure consumer safety and choice are not unnecessarily affected”.

The Agency is asking for opinions on the new guidance that PAL should not be applied for the same allergen that products are also claiming to be “free-from”. In practise, this would mean that a product labelled as “dairy free” should not be labelled with a “may contain milk”.

Episode 25 – Emerging allergens

In addition, the updated guidance also advises that businesses should not use No Gluten Containing Ingredients Statements (NGCIs), for example “this menu has been designed for a non-gluten diet”. Instead, the FSA recommends that only the phrases “gluten free” or “low gluten” should be used as NGCIs have reportedly mislead consumers.

The proposed changes were reportedly supported by over 90 percent of the respondents to the “May Contain Consultation” launched in December 2021.

“While the use of PAL is voluntary, it is important that it should be as accurate and helpful to consumers as possible when it is applied,” said Ben Rayner, FSA Food Hypersensitivity Team Leader.

“This new guidance will help ensure businesses and those living with food allergies and intolerances get the greatest possible benefit from PAL.”

Speaking to New Food about the FSA’s desire for feedback, Liljia Polo Richards, Director and Founder of Allergy Companions, said: “I very much welcome the new guidance on precautionary allergen labeling (PAL) from the Food Standards Agency, as it will offer much more clarity to consumers and businesses.

“It was only two weeks ago that top food bosses were calling for new allergy laws to “save lives”, following a recent coroner’s report into the death of Celia Marsh, who died after eating a vegan wrap that contained milk protein despite being labelled dairy free.”

Polo-Richards explained that, under new guidance, businesses will need to “provide much clearer information on exactly what allergen is possibly contained out of the top 14, and will no longer be able to use generic phrases such as “may contain nuts” to describe products that could contain nuts and/or peanuts”.

“This will be particularly useful to consumers who would otherwise avoid products that made use of such statements,” said Polo-Richards.

Rayner explained that the FSA is “committed to improving the provision of allergy information to consumers” and that seeking advice is the “next step” in that process.

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