FSA consultation: Precautionary allergen labelling ‘may contain’ confusing information

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is seeking views on potential approaches to precautionary allergen labelling for prepacked and non-prepacked foods.

This consultation follows new rules that came into force in relation to allergen labelling on prepacked for direct sale foods last year (see our article about Natasha’s Law here) and will consider how precautionary allergen labelling can be communicated more clearly and consistently to consumers.

Current position

At present, legislation requires food labels to indicate the presence of any of the 14 main allergens if they are used as an ingredient or as a processing aid. However, to help consumers make safe and informed choices, food businesses may voluntarily provide information about the unintentional presence of allergens. This is called precautionary allergen labelling (PAL) and is often signified by the use of the wording 'may contain'.

Allergen cross-contamination can happen unintentionally when there is a risk that an allergen has entered products accidentally during the production process, for example, when several different food products are made on the same premises. PAL should only be used following a thorough risk assessment that identifies a genuine risk of allergen cross-contact within the supply chain that cannot be removed through careful risk management actions.

Why the potential change?

The consultation is part of the continued effort to offer increased protection to the estimated one in four people with food allergies in the UK. It also follows research by the FSA that showed that some food business operators were confused about when and how to use PAL. There has long been concern that an overcautious approach is often adopted whereby food businesses simply include PAL on the label in any event in an effort to protect themselves, which erodes its significance. As a result, consumers are also often confused as to the level of risk communicated by the labelling.

What is required and when?

The FSA is requesting feedback and comments on this issue to ensure that the food information is:

  • communicated more clearly and consistently, in an understandable and meaningful way to consumers, in terms of the form and content of the information; and,
  • based on a proportionate and standardised processes for assessing, managing, and communicating the risk of allergen cross-contamination by food businesses.

The full consultation can be found here and responses should be submitted by 14 March 2022.


This information is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. Please contact us for specific advice on your circumstances. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024.



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