By Allergen Bureau

Agencies collaborate on consumer research into allergen labelling

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) and the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) have conducted joint research to review and summarise the existing literature on consumer knowledge, attitudes and behaviours relating to allergen declarations and precautionary allergen or advisory labelling (PAL).

The review has two parts. The first part reports on allergen declarations and draws on a previously completed literature review that has been updated and edited for this review. The second part focusses on precautionary allergen labelling. The review included only English language literature, with a focus on pre-packaged food only.

Some of the findings in relation to allergen declarations were:

  • Consumers find the repetition of consistent allergen information across different locations on a label helpful in identifying allergens and understanding the label information.
  • Formatting played an important role in the communication of allergen information on food labels, with consumers generally preferring enlarged font size, emboldening, and a contrasting colour of font.
  • Consumers preferred allergen information to be placed in a consistent location, in a consistent format. They feel this enables faster and easier identification of allergen information.

Findings in relation to precautionary allergen labelling (PAL) included:

  • Consumers viewed PAL as unhelpful and confusing, and ultimately restricting rather than enabling safe food choices.
  • While many food allergic consumers avoided food with PAL, others reported consuming products labelled with these warnings at least some of the time.
  • Certain forms of precautionary statement were less likely to be ignored by food allergic consumers than others. The statements less likely to be ignored did not correspond to those considered by food allergic consumers to be most helpful when making a purchasing decision.
  • Very few studies explored consumer perspectives on PAL outside of statement phrasing, but those that did found food allergic consumers supported heightened oversight of PAL usage.

The report can be accessed on both the FSANZ and UK FSA websites.