Get food labelling right

Snack manufacturers Walkers are the latest food business to face an allergen product recall in recent weeks in an incident which emphasises the need to get food labelling correct.

The recall of their Sensations Thai Sweet Chilli crisps arose as they contain gluten; although this was on the ingredients list on packs, the information was not highlighted in bold as required.

The failure to disclose an allergen led to the tragic death of a teenager following an allergic reaction to sesame seeds in a Pret a Manger product. This high profile case has led to renewed scrutiny of allergens in foods and in particular focused on the need to provide consumers with accurate and clear information.

Labelling Regulations introduced in December 2014 state that UK food service providers are obliged to accurately track, record and communicate to the public 14 of the most common foods to cause allergic reactions. In particular all pre-packed food requires labelling which must display mandatory information, which includes highlighting allergens – using a different font, style or background colour so they clearly stand out. The Regulations also contain guidance on the use of phrases such as “Free From” and “May Contain”.

Retailers rely heavily on their suppliers declaring allergens so consumers can be properly informed, but inadequate labelling remains an issue. Waitrose have recently had to withdraw a chickpea and bean salad whose ingredients included nuts, soya and mustard which were not mentioned on the label.

Other cases in November covered on the FSA website include a number of recalls as a result of products including potential allergens which were not being properly mentioned on the label. These include Gardiners Scottish Macaroon Bars which contain soya, a SlimFast Vegan Shake with milk protein and Cully & Sully’s Chowder containing molluscs that not mentioned in the ingredients list.

Further labelling issues relate to incorrect date labelling which must cover the minimum durability or ‘use by’ date – Lidl has recently had to remove pate products as a result of incorrect or missing use-by dates on packaging.

Food manufacturers, processors and retailers, as well as food service businesses, hardly need to be reminded of the consequences of getting this wrong. And yet products are still falling through the net, with potentially disastrous consequences to say nothing of the commercial impact of recalls and bad publicity.

The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.