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Food Standards Agency launches new allergen study

By John Wood , 17-Jul-2012
Last updated on 17-Jul-2012 at 21:26 GMT

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has launched a new study into allergen labelling.

The survey, which starts this week, will compare the level of allergens in pre-packed, processed foods that have allergen labelling with similar products that do not carry such labels.

The results will be used to gauge how manufacturers are using allergen advisory labelling, and whether they are following the agency’s ‘best practice’ guidance.

Cross-contamination

Allergen advisory labelling, such as labelling that states ‘may contain nuts’, is voluntary. Many manufacturers label their products to alert consumers with allergies that a food may not be suitable for them, as it may unintentionally contain small amounts of an allergen as a result of cross-contamination during production.

An FSA spokeswoman told FoodManufacture.co.uk the survey could help determine whether this type of labelling was being used appropriately.

She added that the survey would also look at the different types of advisory labelling used on processed foods. This would help to determine whether different statements, such as ‘may contain traces of nuts’ or ‘made in a factory that also handles nuts', indicate different levels of risk to the consumer.

Sampling of a broad range of processed, pre-packed products will start this week, and results of the study are expected to be published in autumn 2013.

The FSA move comes less than a fortnight after FoodManufacture.co.uk reported work on allergen labelling across the EU. The initiative is intended to make it more consistent and reduce the amount of unnecessary labelling.

Action levels

The European work combines the modelling of allergen ‘action levels’ developed within the Voluntary Incidental Trace Allergen Labelling Initiative and the work of the Food Allergy Taskforce of the International Life Sciences Institute.

Unilever’s science leader for allergy and immunology, René Crevel, who has been closely involved with the European initiative, predicted agreement could be reached within two years.

However, Sue Hattersley, head of the FSA’s Food Allergy Branch, who is a member of the ISLI group, said: “There might be agreement around the action levels that are starting to be useful, but there will not be legislation in two years’ time.”

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