11.9.13

New Rules for Allergen Labelling on Food

New rules on food allergen labelling will apply from 13 December 2014 but you may have already spotted them. I first noticed the new labels whilst shopping at Waitrose and my initial reaction was a huge heavy hearted sigh. I think it's been around twenty seven years since my allergies were officially diagnosed and I am still learning the ropes and making mistakes. I don't think I embrace change very easily for that reason.

So what am I talking about. The new changes will effect labelling on food that is pre‑packed, sold loose or served when eating out. Allergens will be highlighted/bold (or may be in italics or underlined) within the ingredients list, for example


The other change is a ‘contains x’ allergen statement can no longer be provided alongside an ingredients list. This means we will see the allergen advice box disappear and the label pictured below would not be allowed.


Fourteen major allergens will be highlighted on the label within the ingredients list. They are: cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, eggs, fish, peanuts, soybeans, milk, nuts, celery, mustard, sesame, sulphur dioxide, lupin and molluscs.

I recommend this PDF (click here) from the Food Standards Agency, if you would like to learn more about the new rules.

My initial reaction has been I hate the new format. Reading labels is time consuming and this just adds to the problem. If the font is small then the bold letters can still be hard to spot. I do not think the allergens in the first picture (from a box of Cheerios) is particularly clear, a different colour bold font would be better. I know from speaking to people via Twitter that those of you that need to avoid gluten are concerned. The first picture is a good example to help you understand the problem for them. As you see Oat, Wheat and Barley are highlighted as they are cereals which contain gluten. No where on the label do you read "contains gluten" because it's not allowed. This relies heavily on people understanding gluten allergy/intolerance, that may be easy for the coeliac but what about if you were buying for an intolerant friend, would you recognise this?

When I think about the situation some more, I realise I am being forced to read the ingredients in detail, so maybe this is a good idea? It puts the responsibility back into my hands and makes me analyse my food rather than just glancing at the allergen advice box/label. I am interested to see the changes in restaurants/cafes because I do feel that certain places lack reliable allergy information. However, just before I published this post I spotted yesnobananas.wordpress.com has written about the same topic. She points out that eateries can offer this information in a few ways, one of which is verbally to the customer and that just opens up a whole can of worms. Being reliant on the server's knowledge of allergens on a menu is a huge responsibility. Couple of weeks ago, I was in a chain pizza restaurant, placed my order for a cheeseless pizza and the server questioned me about if I could have the dough. On one hand it's great that she questioned my choices but my response  was "according to this booklet of allergens you have given me there is no milk in the dough so I trust this information is up to date?". She couldn't answer my question. I chose to take the risk as I regarded the printed information to be more reliable than the server. That may have been wrong of me to make that decision but I don't think I would be alone in this viewpoint.

What are your thoughts on the changes?

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10 comments:

  1. I always read the list of ingredients in full because i do not trust the allergen box anyways. they for some reason do miss out on things. In the new regs, I was hoping for a definite exclusion statement. MAY not happen ;-)

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    1. Interesting that you have found problems with the allergen box, I don't recall having a problem. A while back I posted about a product where the allergy box said contain milk but the ingredients didn't list it. If that box wasn't there I probably would have eaten the biscuits and made myself ill http://sugarpuffish.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/confusing-free-from-food-labelling.html

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  2. i always read the allergen box then the i grediants especially where milk is concerned as some i am fine with and others not. but im not sure how i feel about this bold words system. it just doesnt feel right especially as if you are in a rush doing a quick read you may miss something or if you simply do not know about the changes it could be problematic.

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    1. My first instinct is to check the allergy information & then the ingredients, apparently the allergy box is provided voluntarily but I guess many manufacturers do use it as we are all upset about loosing it. There doesn't seem to be much publicity about what is going on. I've picked up on this via social media over the last few months

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  3. I am most upset about the loss of the allergy box. It is a simple reference for mother in law and the preschool for little one. They don't know the exact names of all problem ingredients and even with a list of ingredients they feel daunted at the prospect of buying foods. Also I am concerned about the exact words that can be highlighted. If for example the caramel flavouring contained milk would caramel be in bold? I suspect that just the key allergen words will be in bold. Also the word "cream" could be highlighted for its milk content but would not have to say which source it came from.
    The new regulations are giving me far more concerns than the old with regard to prepackaged food. I agree with you regarding the verbal statement from cafes and restuarants. At the moment many places do not even know the ingredients in their foods let alone which allergens they may contain. It could also irritate the places that genuinely want to do better for their customers.

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    1. I never considered about the source of the milk that's a good point because whilst I avoid all animal milk some people may be able to tolerate goat or sheep. I do like that some manufacturers are already implementing the changes as I can learn to adapt slowly. There are certainly flaws and everyone is raising different points from a variety of perspectives.

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  4. I'm upset at losing the Allergy Box too - my eye goes straight there when checking - it's so easy and makes me less likely to miss something.

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    1. It was like a security blanket for most but I understand it was voluntary information and so open to being incorrect

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  5. Yet another interesting read! I have noticed these labels in my local Waitrose (& poss M&S?) and personally haven't found them too bothersome with a quick skim. However, I can see that they're less convenient for those with poor eyesight, and agree with Emma's comment re the lack of specific detail. x

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    1. I'm getting used to to now as it's been slowly creeping over the last year in preparation for December. Yes, agree about eyesight, the font on some packaging is terrible anyway let alone when you're trying to spot the allergens. I hope companies will respond to customer feedback and make improvements :)

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