Regulations play an important part in how labels are designed and the information that can be included on them. One of the most important is the presence of allergens within the product on the ingredients list and whenever this is missing or accidentally misleading, it can lead to very damaging and very expensive recalls.
The introduction of Natasha’s Law heralded a greater focus of allergen labelling across the food and drink sector, with the launch of the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) review of precautionary allergen labelling (PAL) the latest piece of legislative upheaval food and drink manufacturers need to be mindful of.
Julian Abel, co-founder at sauce manufacturer Nowt Poncy, told Food Manufacture just how much trouble PAL has caused his and other small businesses and the lack of guidance being given by the FSA.
Due diligence on allergen labelling
“As a small business, we use the same suppliers for ingredients as they become trusted in their contents. Having said this, more and more often data specification sheets for any new ingredients use a ‘may contain’ statement,” said Abel. “We have a due diligence to follow through with these statements and add them to our own labels.
The ‘may contains’ statement seems to be used as a catch all statement, which isn’t useful to us as a manufacturer. It is our understanding that ‘may contain’ statements, known as alibi statements, are not legally binding. Should there be an issue with an allergen causing an illness (or worse), this will not stand up in court.
“The SALSA standard that we are accredited with states that clean down procedures should be adequate enough to eradicate any allergen that was present when the ingredient, and by association the product made with that ingredient, was manufactured, hence making the ‘may contain’ statement useless.”
Abel explained that the FSA and Trading Standards are enforcing the label contents but not giving advice as to what is required. As he understands it, the only thing they say definitively is that the allergy statement must be a particular size, that he cannot use a ‘blanket’ statement and that allergens are shown in bold.
Trusting your suppliers
“We have to believe that the information we are being given by suppliers regarding the allergen content of their ingredients is correct,” he continued. “Unfortunately, given the amount of recalls from the FSA surrounding incorrect allergen labelling, it would indicate that not everyone is aware of how to label their products.
“If there is any doubt, it falls to the small business to conduct allergen testing, which is an additional cost, and the cost cannot be recouped from the ingredient manufacturer if their labelling was incorrect in the first place, i.e. the use of the ‘may contains’ statement was used as a catch all!”
“The whole thing is a lottery with no one taking full responsibility for advising businesses but with subjective enforcement resulting in the cost and responsibility falling on small businesses.”