The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is today urging businesses to respond to their ‘May Contain consultation’ to help develop its future approach for the provision of precautionary allergen information.
The consultation, which closes on 14 March, seeks to gather views from businesses and consumers on the use of precautionary allergen information and labels, often written as “may contain” on food packaging.
Precautionary allergen information and/or statements, are a voluntary way that food businesses communicate the risk of allergen cross-contamination in their food products to consumers.
Studies have shown that whilst consumers appreciate this information, they are also confused by the range and types of statement used. Research also shows that whilst businesses use this information to try and protect consumers, they too are confused about when and how they need to do so. Recognising this confusion, the FSA wants to hear from businesses about their personal experience.
What is Precautionary Allergen Labelling?
While you may not know the term, you will almost certainly be familiar with what precautionary allergen labels (PALs) are in practice.
These statements are a voluntary way that food businesses can communicate the risk of allergen cross-contamination to their food products. The information can be on a label, but sometimes this information is given verbally by staff, or in some other written form, such as a sign or poster.
Existing advice is that PAL should only be used where a risk assessment shows there is an unavoidable risk of allergen cross-contamination, which cannot be sufficiently controlled through careful risk management. This may be the case in a small food preparation area, where several different products are being prepared and there is an unavoidable possibility of contamination.
Why should I respond?
If you are a business that provides consumers, or supplies other businesses, with food which displays precautionary allergen information, we need to hear from you about the challenges you face. We want your views on what a better system for providing this information might look like.
We understand that the majority of food businesses that use precautionary labelling are doing so to protect people with a food allergy, intolerance, or coeliac disease. And whilst we recognise that different types and sizes of businesses will have different challenges and needs, we also know that businesses are confused about when they should use PAL and want clarity on the controls needed to remove or minimise the risk of allergen cross-contamination.
It is clear that there is a need for a proportionate and standardised process for assessing, managing and telling consumers about the risk of allergen cross-contamination. Any changes we make will have a direct impact on your business, so it’s vital that you have your say.
What do the FSA plan to do once the consultation closes?
The responses to the May Contain Consultation will help inform our efforts to ensure that any future proposals are clear and easy to follow for businesses, and are clear, consistent and understood by consumers.
We will take time to fully consider the responses we receive. We will combine this with feedback from a series of workshops with businesses, industry bodies, consumers and other interested parties, and set out our next steps in due course.
How do I respond to the consultation?
The consultation is in the style of an online questionnaire. You can share your views through the Precautionary Allergen Labelling (PAL) Consultation.