Allergen Labelling in the Food Industry
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Allergen Labelling: Challenges and Developments

  • 13 November 2023

Allergen labelling in the food industry is a critical issue, impacting consumer safety and informed decision-making. Despite clear regulations, challenges persist, particularly in compliance and keeping up with evolving standards.

Challenges in allergen information compliance

The Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) found that many catering and artisan businesses fail to meet allergen information standards. Companies must inform consumers about allergens in their food, a requirement often unmet in practice. The allergen labelling process involves several methods:

  • Ingredients list: Allergens like gluten-containing grains, shellfish, eggs, peanuts, etc., must be emphasized in the list, often using different fonts or styles.
  • Allergen box: Summarizes allergens from the ingredients list but repeating allergen information outside the list is discouraged due to increased error risks.
  • Free-from claims: Such as 'gluten-free' or 'lactose-free', with specific regulations for each claim.
  • Allergy warning for novel foods: Mandatory warnings for new allergens or cross-reactions in novel foods.
  • Cross-contamination allergen warning: Indicates unintentional presence of allergens due to cross-contamination, known as Precautionary Allergen Labelling (PAL).

PAL, while permitted by the European Commission (EC) as voluntary food information, is viewed by the NVWA as a 'statement without legal status'. Cross-contamination should always be prevented, and warnings are allowed only in cases of incidental contamination.

Developments in allergen labelling

Scientific advice from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) has led to re-evaluating the list of priority allergens. Certain allergens might be removed due to their limited severity and frequency of allergic reactions. Moreover, new allergens are being monitored, and further research is needed to assess risks.

The expert group also advised on reference values for priority allergens and the standardized use of PAL. PAL should be used cautiously, only after preventive measures and exceeding reference values, to maintain credibility. It's recommended for non-prepackaged products with warning symbols on labels.

Advice for producers

Producers must stay vigilant about current allergen information regulations. Cross-contamination mentions should be substantiated through a quantitative risk assessment. To stay updated with legal changes, the Food Law Guide provides essential information and guidance.

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Source: Précon Food Management