A study by the Institute of Food Safety, Integrity and Protection (TiFSiP) reported that suppliers use “may contain” labels on products so regularly that food businesses face a challenge to accurately provide allergen information to diners.
Eoghan Daly, policy and technical advisor at TiFSiP, said: “Food businesses that pass on all ‘may contain’ statements without being confident they are accurate, can ‘devalue’ the warning, reduce choice and potentially provide false impressions about the allergy risks.
TiFSip policy and technical advisor:
Food businesses that pass on all ‘may contain’ statements without being confident they are accurate, can ‘devalue’ the warning, reduce choice and potentially provide false impressions about the allergy risks
“Similarly, blanket approaches that ignore all ‘may contain’ declarations could provide false assurances to consumers with food allergies.”
The report said there were suspicions of suppliers defensively labelling products to shield themselves from potential challenges, instead of accurately assessing risks.
It read: “A business may have good systems in place to control allergen cross-contamination but is reliant on its suppliers to manage risks within their operations.
“Particular difficulties are created by the widespread and inconsistent use of precautionary ‘may contain’ labelling by suppliers.”
Cross-contamination with allergens can happen during food preparation or can occasionally be brought in through products and ingredients.
Recent research reported that a large number of consumers with food allergies considered precautionary warnings to be overused and as a result felt they were often ignored or mistrusted.
“Even well-informed food businesses struggle with the provision of accurate and reliable information about potential cross-contamination associated with products provided by suppliers,” read the report.
“Passing on ‘may contain’ allergen information to consumers is not straightforward due to the variety of language used in suppliers’ ‘may contain’ warnings, its inconsistent application between suppliers and the lack of transparency about the level of risk behind ‘may contain’ warnings.”
Since the introduction of new Food Information to Consumer Regulations in 2014, providing accurate information about all potentially allergenic ingredients in food is mandatory and failure to do so punishable by law.