The Food Standards Agency (FSA) updates its food allergen and information technical guidance for labelling.

The update will affect how food businesses should use Precautionary Allergen Label (PAL). The PAL will remain non-mandatory, but the FSA stated that its use can “help consumers make safe and informed choices” when it comes to food.

The FSA’s guidance has been separated into three key areas:

  • Only apply a PAL if there is an unavoidable risk of allergen cross-contamination which cannot be sufficiently controlled by segregation and cleaning.
  • Specify which of the 14 major allergens the PAL refers to – for example, using “may contain peanuts” rather than a generic “may contain nuts” statement.
  • Use PAL statements in combination with a ‘vegan’ label where a risk of cross-contamination with an allergen has been identified. A ‘vegan’ label communicates different information to a ‘free-from’ claim, which is food safety information aimed at different consumer groups.

The guidance also includes information as to why businesses should not use a PAL statement alongside a free-from statements and has also updated their best practice for the use of No Gluten Containing Ingredient (NGCI) statements for food businesses.

Allergen cross-contamination can easily happen causing a risk that an allergen can enter the product accidentally during the production process. This can sometimes happen when several food products are made on the same premises.

The FSA states “aims to support food businesses when applying allergen labelling, while helping to keep consumers safe”. While the use of PAL is voluntary, it is important that it should be as accurate and helpful to consumers as possible when it is applied. The updates to this guidance will help businesses to effectively manage allergens, and ensure those living with food allergies and intolerances get the greatest possible benefit from PAL,”.

Said Natasha Smith, Deputy Director of Policy at the FSA.

Recently, Liljia Polo-Richards wrote an article for New Food surrounding vegan labelling and common misconceptions when it comes to allergens. In Smith’s comment regarding the update, she claims that the new guidance “helps make clear the distinction between a ‘vegan’ claim, and a ‘free from’ claim”.

“A vegan claim is not about food safety, and our new guidance highlights that a PAL statement for any or all of molluscs, eggs, fish, milk and crustacea (foods that are both regulated allergens and animal products) can be used to communicate a risk of their unintended presence, where this has been identified by a food business’ risk assessment,” concluded Smith.