Meet the Expert: What should I know about labelling Food Products with Allergen Information?
Julian Edwards has been a foodservice consultant for the last 21 years and has always added allergen protocols into catering tenders and operating specifications. In 2013, with the new Allergen Law on loose food looming, it was a natural step for him to help the hospitality industry with the development of a best practice standard for foodservice operators.
Why has the subject of allergens had a much higher profile over recent years?
Did you know that 2% of the UK population have a registered allergy? Some 20 million people in the UK have some degree of intolerance to a multitude of ingredients and materials.
There appears to be a growing number of people developing allergies to food and drinks. This isn’t confined to young people, as those in later life can develop allergies and become allergic to some ingredients, but the exact reasonings are not known. However, this is on the rise. There is no known cure for allergies, the only remedy is to avoid allergens, therefore it is essential that food suppliers correctly label and offer advice on products.
What does the Allergen Law actually mean for food retailers?
It is a legal requirement for retailers and those selling any food and beverages to be able to offer concise and easy to follow information on what allergens are contained within their products.
What allergen information do food retailers have to include?
Food retailers must provide information on all the top 14 EU allergens. Two of the allergens also have sub-categories which means retailers must declare the name of the cereals that contain gluten and the actual tree nuts that are in the ingredients.
What allergen information should food retailers also consider including?
For retailers to be extremely customer focused, any precautionary allergen labels that are used or ‘may contain’ statements should be backed up with one standard statement that every food retailer would abide by. It is a big debate at the moment. Allergen Accredited foodservice businesses are covered as they can only state ‘contains’ or not following a risk assessment. There is a frustration from the allergen community in that some manufacturers are over cautious with ‘may contain’ labelling. This can cause additional frustration for customers as they may love the product but are scared to try it because precautionary information isn’t conclusive enough.
What would be the impact of not including allergen information on labels?
As well as the legal implications, you could lose out on a significantly large customer base who wouldn’t even look at your products. Also, any consumers who are food safety savvy wouldn’t purchase the products either, as the lack of allergen information would cause concern.
Where else should we include allergen information?
The more a retailer or manufacturer demonstrates their allergen awareness the better. You should definitely include information on your website, making it as easy to find as possible. In foodservice premises, there should be a sign on display telling customers to ask a member of staff about the allergens. You could do this in manufacturing and retailing too so customers always know where to turn to for advice and clarification. To support the promotion of a product or range of products, allergen information should be part of the sales and marketing push. When you have the correct message and allergen data you should produce this as part of your organisations training, communications and PR messaging.
When should you use a ‘may contain’ warning?
This isn’t something I would recommend as you should have full allergen disclosure. Allergen Accredited businesses would never use them as it goes against their code of practice. However, ‘may contain’ is used widely by food manufacturers and food operators where they suspect there may have been an unintentional contact with an allergen.
If WePrint customers are still unsure and would like more guidance where should they turn to?
The Food Standards Agency and British Retail Consortium are good places for more information. If you want to appeal to more customers, you may want us to come and allergen accredit your site. You can find out more about what this involves and contact us at https://www.allergenaccreditation.co.uk/.