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  • 11 Sep 2013

    Changes in food allergy labelling - here's what you need to know

    Posted: 11 Sep 2013

    Just when you thought you knew your way around food labelling for allergens...it's all going to change! 

    Although the Food Information for Consumers Regulation (EU FIC) won't come into force until December 13th, 2014, I've spotted a few food labels that are already making the changes. So here's the lowdown on the new labelling rules:

    What changes will you see in the way allergens are listed on food packaging? 

    • The regulation requires packaging to list all food allergens within the main ingredients list, rather than listing them separately with a 'Contains: milk, soya, egg'. 
    • To help consumers spot allergens, they may be emphasised in bold (see my soup can above), highlighted, underlined or in italics. 
    • There will be no more references to gluten. Ahem, I'll just say that again, there will be no more references to gluten, instead the cereals that contain gluten will be listed, e.g. Wheat, barley and rye, and they will be emphasised in bold, highlighted, underlined or in italics. 
    • The 'May contain' notice has never been compulsory. This will still be the case.
    • Manufacturers can choose to use an 'Allergy advice' statement, which will refer you back to the main list of ingredients (as shown above).

    What about eating out/food sold without packaging? 
    From December 13th, 2014, food sold without packaging (or wrapped while you wait) in supermarkets, delis, caf├ęs and restaurants will have to give allergen information if the top 14 allergens are present (milk, eggs, cereals containing gluten, peanuts, nuts, soybeans, celery, mustard, sesame, crustaceans, molluscs, fish, lupin and sulphites). This might be written down on a blackboard, on a chart or provided by a member of staff verbally.

    Hmm, what do we think? 
    My first thought is that there'll be a sharp increase in the sales of magnifying glasses as people squint at lists of ingredients! Although, as my can of soup shows, writing the allergens in bold is quite effective, particularly when it's white on black. I'm not so sure about using italics; they are quite easy to miss when the font is already tiny.

    I find the 'Contains:' labels really handy when shopping as it's a quick way to see if the food is safe to eat. These labels have never been compulsory, and will no longer be allowed alongside an ingredient list after the regulation takes effect. 

    For milk allergy sufferers, the change in labelling will mean that if cream is used, the label can read 'cream' (highlighted, bold, underlined or in italics) rather than stating clearly that there is a milk product in there. This could be a particular concern for people whose first language isn't English, they might be anxiously scanning for 'milk' and the 'cream' might pass them by completely. Hats off to Heinz as I feel their execution of consistenly highlighting the allergen rather than 'cream' is far more effective.

    Removing the word gluten from packaging feels a bit risky. I'll know what I can or can't eat, but will others? Will spelt and malt now be highlighted on food labels as well as wheat, barley, rye, etc? 

    For those with an egg allergy, will the egg derivatives lecithin (E322), ovomucin, lysozyme and albumen be highlighted? 

    Warnings about 'may contain nuts' and other possible allergen cross-contaminations are still being left to the discretion of manufacturers, umm...why? Isn't it time that a regulation was passed about nut labelling? It would save so much time for consumers who really want to try a product but, because of a vague nut disclaimer, are obliged to email the supplier to ask about the manufacturing process.

    Look at me getting all militant!

    So what do you think? Will the labelling make your life easier? It would be great to hear your thoughts as the photo of my humble can of soup seems to have caused quite a stir on Twitter and Facebook!

    If you know someone who would find this information useful, then please pass it on!

    Sue Hattersley, head of allergy at the FSA, has posted a general response to consumers concerned by the change to food labelling. Read it here.

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