Allergen guidance calls for clearer use of PAL

A precautionary allergen label (PAL) should only be applied to food where there is an unavoidable risk of cross-contamination, according to new guidance.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) said updates made to its best practice technical guidance, which follows a consultation held earlier this year, aimed to support food businesses when applying allergen labelling, whilst helping to keep consumers safe.

Among the key recommendations if that a PAL should only be used if there is an unavoidable risk of allergen cross-contamination which cannot be sufficiently controlled by segregation and cleaning. 

In addition, businesses are being asked to specify which of the 14 major allergens the PAL refers to – for example, using “may contain peanuts” rather than a generic “may contain nuts” statement. 

The guidance also clarifies the distinction between a ‘vegan’ claim, and a ‘free from’ claim. It says a ‘free-from’ allergen claim should guarantee that the specified allergen is absent and to use it a food business must have implemented strict controls to eliminate any risk of cross-contamination. A vegan claim by contrast is not about food safety therefore the FSA is recommending a PAL can be used in combination with a ‘vegan’ label where a risk of cross-contamination with an allergen has been identified.

The guidance also gives updated information on best practice for the use of ‘no gluten containing ingredient’ (NGCI) statements for food businesses in the non-prepacked food sector.

“While the use of PAL is voluntary, it is important that it should be as accurate and helpful to consumers as possible when it is applied,” said Natasha Smith, deputy director of policy at the FSA. “The updates to this guidance will help businesses to effectively manage allergens, and ensure those living with food allergies and intolerances get the greatest possible benefit from PAL.”

Food hypersensitivity is a current priority area for the FSA. It said future work will include working with international food standards bodies to influence the introduction of allergen threshold standards and continuing to find ways to improve the provision of allergen information including considering the need for standardisation.

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