Posts Tagged ‘nut presence’

May Contain Traces of Nuts? Food Standards Agency Regulations

This post further examines food packaging and the information which manufacturers have to provide about the presence of nuts in their products. I asked the Welsh branch of the Food Standards Agency, based in Cardiff, about the guidelines manufacturers have to follow, why they can write the ambiguous phrase ‘may contain traces of nuts’ and whether they have to qualify such statements.

‘Accidental’ Nut Presence

Firstly, the term ‘accidental’ nut presence is one I have used to refer to nuts appearing in foods which don’t have them in the ingredients. For example, I talked a lot in my last post about nut particles theoretically entering the food via the air, which is perhaps why some manufacturers do not unequivocally state their food does not have nuts in when nuts are not used to make them.  But the actual term ‘accidental’ nut presence has come from me, not the Food Standards Agency.

Box of Chocoates [Image Courtesy of robbplusjessie]

Nut Allergy Sufferers need to be Careful with Chocolate Products [Image Courtesy of robbplusjessie]

Their line on the matter read: “Unlike the situation for deliberate ingredients, there are currently no statutory controls governing the labelling of the possible low level presence of allergens due to the cross-contamination of foods along the food supply chain.”

My understanding of this is that manufacturers have no obligation to label foods outlining the likelihood or the possibility that ‘accidental’ nut presence might exist in their products. So manufacturers don’t have to state the long, complicated and Scientific account about the probability of nut particles getting into the product via the air. This is often done in nut policy sections on websites, the best example of which is Kinnerton as we saw in the last post. Such an explanation does not have to appear on the products themselves, according to the Food Standard Agency, which is probably a sensible thing. Imagine writing that on a small chocolate bar like a Freddo!

I don’t know whether the familiar labelling: “This product has been made using equipment that has previously used nut ingredients” comes under the statute. It is obviously not as ‘accidental’ a contamination as nut particles contaminating through the air, but it could be described as ‘accidental’ and does occur “along the food supply chain.” If it is not covered by the statute it is quite reassuring because many manufacturers state this on their food packaging anyway, even though they would not be obliged to do so.  

May Contain labels

Nut allergy sufferer of not, I am sure you have seen the words: “This product may contain traces of nuts” written on some sort of food packaging. Many times I have pointed out its perceived ambiguity when the ingredients do not seem to contain nuts, the factory is listed as having no nuts, yet a message of caution is displayed.

Ambiguous: No Nuts, Cannot Guarantee Nut-Free

Ambiguous: No Nuts, Cannot Guarantee Nut-Free

The Food Standards Agency wrote: “The Food Standards Agency… produced voluntary best practice guidance to ensure allergen labelling could be as effective as possible. The guidance states that advisory labelling should only be used when, following thorough risk assessment, there is a demonstrable and significant risk of allergen cross contamination.”

The way this is written struck me somewhat. I had perhaps anticipated the Agency to be telling manufactures to write this note of caution more frequently, but the words “should only be used”, “following thorough risk assessment” and “demonstrable and significant risk” would suggest they are urging manufacturers to be more selective in employing the label. This is perhaps in compliance with the wishes of nut allergy sufferers who, if they are anything like me or people I have spoken to, want cautious or  ‘scare’ messages to be used less. After all, it does limit what nut allergy sufferers can (or dare to) eat.

The Food Standards Agency also suggested looking at their on-line PDF file for more information on the use of May Contain labels and general allergen labelling.

Part of Section 3.3.1, about food labelling, reads:

“It is recommended that there is a clear distinction in the labelling information provided between ingredients that are deliberate components of the food (whatever the level of incorporation) and any possible allergen cross-contamination arising from production of the raw ingredients or during the manufacture or transport of the food.”

“However, information on deliberate ingredients and possible contaminants should be adjacent to each other and in the same field of vision as the ingredients list.”

As far as I can tell this sums up the guidelines for manufacturers. They have to distinguish between deliberate ingredients from possible cross-contaminated ingredients on their food packaging – and this is where the May Contain label derives from, and what it actually means for nut allergy sufferers.

My next post will be about the other topic I asked the Food Standards Agency about – new regulations for food packaging, which will enforce EU regulations on the UK. To be continued…

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