Food Standards Agency unveils revised guidance on food allergen labelling

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) recently released an amended version of its food allergen labelling and information technical guidance. This follows a consultation that ran from March to May 2023. The revamped guidance is designed to assist food businesses in adhering to allergen labelling requirements, thereby safeguarding consumers. Concurrently, FSA's update supports the FDF Change Management of Allergen Information guidance, which was also published recently.    

The improved technical guidelines propose several amendments concerning the use of Precautionary Allergen Labels (PAL) by food businesses. Key recommendations include:  
• Applying a PAL only when there is an unpreventable risk of allergen cross-contamination that cannot be adequately controlled through segregation and cleaning.  
• Specifying the exact allergen the PAL refers to – for instance, using "may contain peanuts" instead of a vague "may contain nuts" declaration.  
• Applying PAL warnings in conjunction with a 'vegan' label when there is a risk of allergen cross-contamination. It's important to note that a 'vegan' label communicates different information from a 'free-from' claim, with each aimed at different consumer groups.    

The updated technical guidance delves deeper into why businesses should avoid using a PAL statement together with a "free from" declaration. It provides fresh information on best practices for using No Gluten Containing Ingredient (NGCI) statements, especially for food businesses in the non-prepacked food sector.    

The FSA has also clarified the difference between a 'vegan' claim and a 'free-from' claim. A 'free-from' allergen declaration must assure that the specified allergen is not present, with the food business implementing strict controls to eradicate any chance of cross-contamination. On the other hand, a vegan claim is not related to food safety. The new guidance underlines that a PAL statement can be used to alert consumers about the risk of unintended presence of molluscs, eggs, fish, milk, and crustacea (regulated allergens and animal products) identified by a food business's risk assessment.    

The revised allergen technical guidance from FSA is a crucial resource for businesses, ensuring that suitable labelling is available to aid consumers. This recent version offers crucial clarity, particularly to small and medium-sized enterprises, on appropriate usage of precautionary allergen labelling statements. Standardizing the use of 'may contain' declarations will not only assist businesses but also ensure that consumers with allergies are not unnecessarily limited in their food choices.    

This best practice guidance and regulatory compliance is designed to align with the allergen provisions of Retained Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011 (for England and Wales), Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011 (for Northern Ireland), and The Food Information Regulations 2014 and equivalent regulations in Northern Ireland and Wales.    

The FSA intends to review again these guidelines by December 2024.