'May contain' allergen information displayed on food packs will become less prevalent and more consistently used across the EU over the next couple of years as work by experts in the field comes to fruition.
It will help to make life for both manufacturers and allergy sufferers better, according to Dr Rachel Ward, chair of the Food and Drink Federation's allergen steering group.
Ward, who is also regulatory affairs manager at Pepsico Int, is hopeful that the collaborative work of allergen experts around the world will result in a new and more consistent approach to allergen management and labelling.
The work combines the probabilistic modelling of allergen 'action levels' developed within the Voluntary Incidental Trace Allergen Labelling initiative (Vital 2.0) and the work of the Food Allergy Taskforce of the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) in Europe. Unilever's science leader for allergy and immunology, René Crevel, who has been closely involved with these developments, is confident that agreement will be reached on this approach within two years.
Sue Hattersley, head of the Food Standards Agency's Food Allergy Branch, who is also on the ILSI expert group, is less optimistic about the speed of agreement. She 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."
An action level for an allergen denotes the amount per portion, which when unavoidably present in a product, despite control efforts, would not elicit severe reactions in the vast majority of sensitive individuals, said Ward.
The potential to reduce unnecessary 'may contain' labelling by this approach, has been welcomed by the Anaphylaxis Campaign, which represents allergy suffers, as "a move in the right direction".
It will not help the 5% of most severe "exquisitely allergic" sufferers, who probably need to avoid processed foods entirely or rely on 'free-from' products, which guarantee no cross contamination with allergens. But it should help the vast majority of allergy suffers to make more informed decision, since it will reduce the use of 'may contain' labels to those products in which there is a real risk of cross-contamination and which they should avoid.
Moira Austin, helpline manager for the Anaphylaxis Campaign said: "We are taking the long-term view that it will improve information for allergy suffers because food manufacturers will only use allergy warnings where it is absolutely necessary."
Austin said: "Our understanding is if they have these set [action] levels then it will ease the pressure on industry. And they will hopefully only use 'may contain' warnings where it has been demonstrated that there is a genuine risk and that the allergens have been found at that level or above."