Food recalls due to undeclared allergens jump to a five-year high

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Food_Manufacture_Sponsors_2020_Business Leaders_781x285Food recalls relating to undeclared allergens are at a record high having jumped 20 per cent. in the past year. Recalls happen when food products which are already in the shops are found to contain undeclared traces of allergens.

Food businesses must tell the public if they use any of the 14 key allergens as ingredients in the food and drink they provide. Food businesses include restaurants, cafés and takeaways, and businesses that produce, manufacture or pre-pack food. The allergens must be emphasised within the ingredients list of pre-packed food or drink. This can be done, for example, using bold, italic or coloured type, to make the ingredients easier to spot.

The 14 allergens that need to be declared are:

  • celery
  • cereals containing gluten – including wheat, rye, barley and oats
  • crustaceans – such as prawns, crabs and lobsters
  • eggs
  • fish
  • lupin
  • milk
  • molluscs – such as mussels and oysters
  • mustard
  • tree nuts – including almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios and macadamia nuts
  • peanuts
  • sesame seeds
  • soybeans
  • sulphur dioxide and sulphites (if they are at a concentration of more than ten parts per million)

If there is a risk of a food product being affected by allergen cross-contamination, the label should include a phrase such as ‘may contain’ to warn customers that there could be small amounts of an allergen in a food product. This can happen when the allergen has entered the product accidentally during the production process. Precautionary allergen labelling should only be used after a thorough risk assessment. It should only be used if the risk of allergen cross-contamination is real and cannot be removed.

A review of the Foods Standards Agency website shows how prevalent food recalls due to undeclared allergens are. In October and November alone, there were 14 allergen recalls by companies such as La Boulangere, Harvey Nichols, Costa Coffee, Lidl, Spartan Protein and the Co-op. Perhaps because of the prevalence of recalls and also the devastating effect on individuals when allergens are not declared, from October 2021, new food regulations will come into effect which means that food which is ‘pre-packed for direct sale’ will need to have a label with a full ingredients list with allergenic ingredients emphasised within it.

WM Comment

Food labelling and, in particular, allergen labelling is a complex area heavily governed by regulation. If you need help navigating them and preparing for the new regulation in 2021 please get in contact with Stuart Ponting or anyone in the food group at Walker Morris.