UK: About Precautionary allergen labelling (PAL)

By | December 5, 2023

The Food Standards Agency(FSA) updated the Technical Guidance on food allergen labelling and information requirements on the 4th September, 2023. The guidance recommends that food business operators, in particular, review the use of precautionary allergen labels (PALs*).
(*PAL is used to inform consumers of the possible unintended presence of allergens in food. e.g. “May Contain Nuts”)

  • A PAL should only be used if there is an unavoidable risk of allergen cross-contact that cannot be sufficiently controlled by segregation and cleaning.
  • Business operators are being asked to specify which of the 14 major allergens the PAL refers to, for example, “may contain peanuts” rather than a generic “may contain nuts” statement.
  • A PAL should be used in combination with a vegan label where a risk of cross-contact with an allergen has been identified.
    (A ‘vegan’ label communicates different information to a ‘free-from’ claim which is about food safety aimed at different consumer groups.)

The purpose of the guidance is to support the effectiveness of appropriate allergen labeling by companies, while not to unnecessarily limit the food choices of consumers with allergens. The updated guidance indicates labeling for food safety such as “free-from” cannot have a PAL statement for the same allergen. The guidance also provides information about No Gluten Containing Ingredient (NGCI).

Some other countries also have been operating PAL with cautions. For example, the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) states that the use of PAL should be
Accompanied by a thorough risk assessment for any actual cross-contamination along the production chain, which poses potential risk to allergenic consumers
Used only as necessary, as this would limit food choices for allergenic consumers
The SFA recommends referring to the Voluntary Incidental Trace Allergen Labelling (VITAL) Program (initiated by the Allergen Bureau in Australia and New Zealand), which not only assists food product manufacturers in assessing the risk of allergen cross contact in each of their products but also specifies which a particular precautionary allergen statement to be used according to the level of cross contact.

As for the development of an international guidance, PAL is currently on the agenda of the Codex Alimentarius Commission. Main subjects for the 47th Codex Committee on Food Labelling (CCFL) (held in May 2023) provide the following information;
-the 45th CCFL agreed to develop guidance on PAL or advisory labeling
-the draft guidance on the use of PAL should be developed after the results of discussions by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert meeting.
(In addition, in the subject on the regular allergen labeling individual items are specified with the scope of nuts.)

In Japan, labeling of the possibility of allergens corresponding to “May Contain xx” is prohibited. If the possibility of cross-contamination cannot be eliminated even after thorough measures to prevent contamination are taken, advisory labeling(e.g., “The manufacturing plant of this product produces products containing xx”) are recommended (Attachment of Regarding Food Labeling Standards, Labeling on foods containing allergens, 1-3 – (5), (6)) .

Looking at these trends in other countries, we can see once again that the Japanese allergen labeling systems are stricter compared to other countries, considering the establishment of the official test methods and thresholds of 10 μ g / g for protein content from allergens in each product, and the operation of the “judgment tree”. In the practice of exporting food products overseas, it must be noted to confirm the difference in the systems between your country and the target countries. Therefore, I think it would be good to use this as an opportunity to reconfirm the system of your country when investigating international trends.

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