Allergens ‘May Contain’ Labelling

Following the implementation of the Food Information Regulation (2014), restaurant and catering businesses are now aware that they must identify when any of the 14 specified food allergens are contained as ingredients in dishes, including drinks, and properly explain to customers how they can obtain this information prior to ordering; in most cases this information is not provided on menus but there must be a written statement that it can be produced on request.

While clarity in labelling has improved, there is concern that 'may contain' labelling is used too frequently and sometimes unnecessarily by manufacturers, in order to avoid future liability. This type of labelling is undermining valid warnings on products, and makes it difficult for caterers to interpret the extent of the risk and to communicate it to their customers, and can restrict consumer choice.

As such, the BHA recommends that food businesses voluntarily carry out a thorough risk assessment with manufacturers and suppliers where ‘may contain’ labelling is being used. For example:

You will already be asking for allergen ingredient information from your manufacturers or suppliers but also make sure you determine what allergens may be present as contaminants:

  • If a “may contain” label is present (or similar) ask questions to ascertain the level of risk of an allergen in a product:
    • What is the basis for any precautionary statement?
    • Do you have [name of allergen] on site?
    • Was [name of allergen] handled on the same line?
    • Do you actively monitor for the same unintentional presence of [name of allergen] in the finished product?
  • Whenever possible, require the supplier to use the FSA’s labelling, “not suitable for X allergen” instead of “may contain”. This phrase indicates real risk to consumers with serious allergies and will make your job of communicating to the customer much easier.
  • To ensure that your communications are consistent and informative, limit the range of “may contain” phrases you use to label foods.
  • Consider changing supplier if you don’t get satisfactory responses.

For more information regarding allergen labelling and how to best comply with government standards, please refer to our Allergens Toolkit. This guidance is available online for members of the BHA. The TifSip whitepaper on may contain statements is also another useful resource.

Alternatively, please contact our Policy Manager, Lucy Aldrich-Smith 

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