Allergens - testing, labelling and legal requirements
Food allergies and food intolerances are estimated to affect over three million people in the UK alone. Current EU legislation requires food businesses to declare the intentional presence (as ingredients or processing aids) of 14 substances or products considered to be allergens. For prepacked foods, this information is communicated through labelling, in most cases in the ingredients list. For non-prepacked foods, national legislation permits allergen information to be provided as part of a conversation between the food business operator and the consumer, but this needs to be backed up by information in writing to ensure that it is verifiable, accurate and consistent.
Situations where allergenic foods are unintentionally present, due to cross-contamination, are not covered specifically by labelling legislation. Allergen management requires assessment of the potential risks of crosscontamination at every step of the food production process.
Analysis remains an integral part of allergen management and it is critical that food businesses have confidence in the results of allergen tests. When testing for allergens it is important to conduct the correct test for the allergen of interest. For example, when testing whether a product has been cross-contaminated with milk, the most relevant test would be for casein. Whereas if the potential cross-contaminant is whey power, the most relevant test would be for beta-lactoglobulin.