The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has updated its guidance on allergen labelling following consultation carried out earlier this year. The new guidance clarifies when precautionary allergen labels (PALs) should be used and how they should be worded.
According to the guidance, PALs should only be used if there is an unavoidable risk of allergen cross-contact that cannot be sufficiently controlled by segregation and cleaning. Businesses are being asked to specify which of the 14 major allergens the PAL refers to, for example, “may contain peanuts” rather than a generic “may contain nuts” statement.
PAL statements should not be used in conjunction with a ‘free from’ statement for the same allergen, because a ‘free-from’ claim is a guarantee that the food is suitable for people with a food hypersensitivity to that allergen.
The guidance also clarifies the distinction between a ‘vegan’ claim and a ‘free-from’ claim. A ‘free-from’ allergen claim should guarantee that the specified allergen is absent. To use such a claim, a food business must have implemented strict controls to eliminate any risk of the allergen being present, including cross-contact. A vegan claim, by contrast, is not about food safety and therefore the FSA is recommending that a PAL can be used in combination with a vegan label where a risk of cross-contact with an allergen has been identified.
The FSA also recommends that food businesses provide clear information on how they can be contacted, such as an email or telephone number, so that consumers can seek further clarification or information easily.
The latest updates to the guidance apply to food businesses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and the FSA will review the current guidance by December 2024.