Food allergen labelling

People with food allergies have to be extremely careful about what they eat. Food labelling is therefore very important to those with food allergies as there can be potentially serious consequences from eating food that they are allergic to.

Food labelling rules from 13 December 2014

Labelling rules in European Directives 2003/89/EC and 2006/142/EC ensure that all consumers are given comprehensive ingredient listing information and make it easier for people with food allergies to identify ingredients they need to avoid. However, following implementation of the Food Information for Consumers Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011, allergen labelling rules changed in December 2014.

The new regulation, which was published in October 2011, builds on allergen labelling provisions for prepacked foods and introduces a new requirement for allergen information to be provided for foods sold non-packed or prepacked for direct sale. The three year transition period allows businesses to make the necessary changes to their processes and labelling designs in order to meet the provisions laid out in the legislation.

The Agency continues to work with all its stakeholders to develop industry-led guidance to support businesses with regard to their responsibilities on provision of allergen information for foods sold prepacked and non-prepacked.

The British Retail Consortium and the Food and Drink Federation have already produced guidance on the new allergen labelling requirements for prepacked foods. The Agency welcomes this guidance and industry’s efforts for greater consistency in their approach to allergen labelling and interpretation of the provisions within the new Regulation. This more consistent approach will make it easier for the allergic consumer to find and understand the allergen information provided on prepacked foods. A link to the guidance can be found on the right of this page.

These pages will be updated to reflect the new rules as necessary as more guidance and advice becomes available.

Advisory labelling

Manufacturers often use phrases such as 'may contain' to show that there could be small amounts of an allergen for example milk, egg, nuts etc. in a food product because it has entered the product accidentally during the production process.

It's not a legal requirement to say on the label that a food might accidently contain small amounts of an allergen, but many manufacturers label their products in this way to warn their customers of this risk.

Cross-contamination warnings

It is important to understand that different manufacturers can choose to use different phrases to warn of allergen cross contamination risks - such as

  • May contain x
  • Made on equipment that also processes x
  • Made in a factory that also handles x

These different phrases describe how the risk arises, but are not indicative of the severity of the risk. For this reason, none of these warnings should be read as being more or less serious than another phrase.

‘May contain’ labels

There is concern that 'may contain' labelling is used too much, sometimes when it isn't really necessary. This could undermine valid warnings on products and restrict people's choice unnecessarily.

We recognise that advisory labelling is essential for people with food allergies, and that manufacturers are striving to provide helpful information. As a result, we have been working to reduce the unnecessary use of 'may contain' labelling and to provide clear advice to the public on why these labelling terms are used and what they mean.

This has included working with regulators in other countries, with the food industry and with consumer support organisations to agree how management thresholds can be derived for the common food allergens. The outcomes from this work should be published shortly. The results will enable businesses and regulators to make decisions on whether or not advisory warnings are needed in a more consistent way.

Best practice guidance on the appropriate use of allergy labelling can be found at the bottom of the page.

Related pages

More in this section