Food allergen labelling
People with food allergies have to be extremely careful about what they eat. Food labelling is very important to these people because the consequences of eating the food they are allergic to could be very serious.
Food labelling rules to change
Labelling rules in European Directives 2003/89/EC and 2006/142/EC ensure that all consumers are given comprehensive ingredient listing information and make it easier for people with food allergies to identify ingredients they need to avoid. The EU rules will be changing in December 2014 when the Food Information for Consumers Regulation 1169/2011 comes into force.
The new regulation will build on current allergen labelling provisions for prepacked foods and will introduce a new requirement for allergen information to be provided for foods sold non-packed or prepacked for direct sale. The three year transition period allows businesses to make the necessary changes to their processes and labelling designs in order to meet the provisions laid out in the legislation. These pages will be updated to reflect the new rules.
The current rules
Currently, the rules for pre-packed foods establish a list of 14 food allergens, which have to be indicated by reference to the source allergen whenever they, or ingredients made from them, are used at any level in pre-packed foods, including alcoholic drinks. The list consists of cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, molluscs, eggs, fish, peanuts, nuts, soybeans, milk, celery, mustard, sesame, lupin and sulphur dioxide at levels above 10mg/kg, or 10 mg/litre, expressed as SO2.
Some ingredients derived from the listed allergenic foods are so highly processed that they are no longer capable of triggering an adverse reaction. A list of products that were temporarily exempt from the labelling requirements of Directive 2003/89/EC was published in Commission Directive 2005/26/EC and a list of permanent exemptions was published in Directive 2007/68/EC in November 2007. Links to the directives can be found on the right of the page.
For more information, see the guidance on the food allergen labelling legislation at the bottom of this page.
A public consultation on the new legislation was held from November 2012 to January 2013 to seek views from interested parties on how this will affect them. For further information on the outcome of the consultation, visit the Defra website via the link on the right hand side of this page.
Manufacturers often use phrases such as 'may contain' to show that there could be small amounts of an allergen for example milk, egg, nuts etc. in a food product because it has entered the product accidentally during the production process.
It's not a legal requirement to say on the label that a food might accidently contain small amounts of an allergen, but many manufacturers label their products in this way. Some members of the public have expressed concern that 'may contain' labelling is used too much, sometimes when it isn't really necessary. Some people are also worried that this could undermine valid warnings on products and restrict people's choice unnecessarily.
The Food Standards Agency recognises that advisory labelling is essential to people with food allergies, and that manufacturers are striving to provide helpful information. It has been working with the food industry and public interest groups to reduce the unnecessary use of 'may contain' labelling and to provide clear advice to the public on why these labelling terms are used and what they mean.
Best practice guidance on the appropriate use of allergy labelling can be found at the bottom of the page.
More in this section
This guidance is designed to help food businesses provide information to customers who need to avoid certain ingredients because of an allergy. It includes general advice and information on allergy and intolerance, the food labelling rules and specific voluntary best practice guidance on cross-contamination controls for pre-packed foods and loose foods.
Frequently asked questions on the rules on gluten-free labelling.
Around 1% of people in the UK are intolerant to gluten (often referred to as coeliac disease) and need to avoid foods containing gluten to prevent potentially serious health effects. This makes labelling claims about gluten in foods an important issue.