FSA updates food allergen labelling best practice guidance

Posted: 5 September 2023 | | No comments yet

The FSA has updated its food allergen labelling and technical guidance with the aim of supporting both businesses and consumers.

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The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has released an updated version of its food allergen and information technical guidance.

The update itself includes numerous changes regarding how food businesses should use Precautionary Allergen Label (PAL). While PAL is not mandatory, the FSA has previously stated on its website that its use can “help consumers make safe and informed choices” when it comes to food. 

The FSA’s guidance can be separated into three key points for food businesses to take note of. These include:

  • Only applying a PAL if there is an unavoidable risk of allergen cross-contamination which cannot be sufficiently controlled by segregation and cleaning
  • Specifying which of the 14 major allergens the PAL refers to – for example, using “may contain peanuts” rather than a generic “may contain nuts” statement
  • Using PAL statements in combination with a ‘vegan’ label where a risk of cross-contamination with an allergen has been identified. A ‘vegan’ label communicates different information to a ‘free-from’ claim, which is food safety information aimed at different consumer groups.

In addition, the guidance includes information as to why businesses should not use a PAL statement alongside a “free from” statement and also presents updated information on best practice for the use of No Gluten Containing Ingredient (NGCI) statements for food businesses in the non-prepacked food sector. The full technical guidance can be found here.

The Agency has said that the best practice technical guidance “aims to support food businesses when applying allergen labelling, whilse helping to keep consumers safe”. In addition it has highlighted that update supports the FDF Change Management of Allergen Information guidance.

“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. The updates to this guidance will help businesses to effectively manage allergens, and ensure those living with food allergies and intolerances get the greatest possible benefit from PAL,” said Natasha Smith, Deputy Director of Policy at the FSA. 

Recently, Liljia Polo-Richards wrote an article for New Food surrounding vegan labelling and common misconceptions when it comes to allergens. In Smith’s comment regarding the update, she claims that the new guidance “helps make clear the distinction between a ‘vegan’ claim, and a ‘free from’ claim”.

Smith went on to highlight that a ‘free-from’ allergen claim “should guarantee that the specified allergen is absent”. Additionally, she notes that, to use it, a food business “must have implemented strict controls to eliminate any risk of cross-contamination”. 

“A vegan claim is not about food safety, and our new guidance highlights that a PAL statement for any or all of molluscs, eggs, fish, milk and crustacea (foods that are both regulated allergens and animal products) can be used to communicate a risk of their unintended presence, where this has been identified by a food business’ risk assessment,” concluded Smith.

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