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 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 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?

Sarah x