EU strengthens allergen labelling

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: New rules, Edible nuts and seeds, Nut, Food

From 25 November, the new rules, introduced by EC Directive
89/2003, will require pre-packed foods sold in the European Union
to show clearly on the label if they contain any of 12 listed
allergenic foods as an ingredient.

The new regulations also remove the current '25 per cent rule', which meant that the ingredients of a compound ingredient (for example, a sausage used as a topping for a pizza or a sponge finger used in a trifle) did not have to be declared if the compound ingredient made up less than 25 per cent of the final food.

There is general agreement between the food industry, consumer support groups and enforcement bodies, that excessive use of warning labels about the possible presence of allergens not only unnecessarily restricts consumer choice but also devalues the impact of the warnings.

Under the new rules, all ingredients will have to be listed on the label, even if they are part of a compound ingredient, or present in just tiny amounts.

The new rules apply to foods labelled on or after 25 November. However, some consumer groups are concerned that there will still be some products on the shelves that were labelled before these rules were introduced.

In addition, some ingredients derived from these foods are exempt from the new rules, because they are highly processed. The regulators argue that as a result, they are no longer able to cause allergic reactions.

The UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) asserts that the number of people who have adverse reactions to foods such as cows' milk, tree nuts, and peanuts is increasing. There is increasing pressure for clearer labelling of both the use of allergenic ingredients and identification of possible cross-contamination with allergens.

As a result, the agency has produced a document setting out voluntary best practice advice to food producers and retailers on how to assess the risks of cross-contamination of a food product with an allergenic food or food ingredient and then to determine whether advisory labelling is appropriate. The purpose of this document is to set out general principles that can be applied to the control of specific allergenic ingredients in differing situations.

The FSA says that this is intended to lead to a common understanding by food producers and retailers, enforcement bodies and consumers of when warning labels should, or should not, be used and what they mean for the affected consumer.

The 12 foods listed in the new rules are: peanuts; nuts (such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios and macadamia nuts); eggs; milk; crustaceans (including prawns, crabs and lobsters); fish; sesame seeds; cereals containing gluten (including wheat, rye, barley and oats); soya; celery; mustard; sulphur dioxide and sulphites (preservatives used in some foods and drinks) at levels above 10mg per kg or per litre.

The 12 foods listed in the new rules are: peanuts; nuts (such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios and macadamia nuts); eggs; milk; crustaceans (including prawns, crabs and lobsters); fish; sesame seeds; cereals containing gluten (including wheat, rye, barley and oats); soya; celery; mustard; sulphur dioxide and sulphites (preservatives used in some foods and drinks) at levels above 10mg per kg or per litre.

Related topics: Ingredients, Gluten-free & Allergens

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