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Allergy labelling

pasta jars big Labels on pre-packaged foods, including alcoholic drinks, need to make it clear if the product contains certain ingredients that people may be allergic or intolerant to. This became law in November 2005.

Which ingredients?

If any of the following 14 foods are used as an ingredient in pre-packed food, they need to be mentioned on the food label. This rule covers all European Union countries.

The 14 foods are:
  • celery
  • cereals containing gluten (wheat, barley, rye and oats)
  • crustaceans (such as lobster and crab)
  • eggs
  • fish
  • lupin
  • milk
  • molluscs (such as mussels and oysters)
  • mustard
  • nuts (such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios and macadamia nuts)
  • peanuts
  • sesame seeds
  • soybeans
  • sulphur dioxide and sulphites (preservatives used in some foods and drinks) at levels above 10mg per kg or per litre
Labels also need to give clear information about ingredients made from these listed foods, for example a glaze made from egg.

These rules end a situation that meant that labels did not need to list individual ingredients if they were part of a compound ingredient, if the compound ingredient made up less than 25% of the product.

Some ingredients that won't be listed

Some ingredients made from these 14 foods are highly processed and are no longer able to cause allergic reactions. These ingredients don't need to be specially labelled, for example ingredients such as refined soya bean oil and glucose syrups made from wheat or barley.

'May contain' labelling

Some food labels say 'may contain nuts' or 'may contain seeds'. This means that even though nuts or seeds aren't deliberately included in the food, the manufacturer can't be sure that the product doesn't accidentally contain small amounts of them. If you have a nut or seed allergy you should avoid these food products.

If you think a food product has been labelled wrongly, report this to the trading standards service at your local authority.