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Understanding Allergy Labelling

It's not always easy to understand the laws of labelling allergens on food, so let us try to explain.

Added 29th April 2015

Updated 13th December 2020

Understanding Allergy Labelling
Something I see far too often is the lack of understanding ingredients on the food we buy. Despite the new labelling laws I see people questioning whether they can eat a product that clearly indicates there is no gluten in it. I believe that the minority ask out of pure ignorance and the majority ask due to lack of understanding and not realised gluten has to be clearly marked in ingredients. For some everything in this blog might be obvious but for others it may help them understand their labels better.

So, lets start with the labelling laws. Before December 2014 ingredients were allowed to basically be a straight list of all the ingredients listed from the the ingredient with the highest percentage within the product to the least with no need to point out any allergens but manufacturers could put allergy boxes pointing out allergens or may contain warnings.

From December 2014 new labelling laws were introduced, if any of the 14 main allergens were present in a product they HAVE to be highlighted within the ingredients whether written in bold, a different colour or underlined, it just has to stand out from the other ingredients. The 14 allergens which fall into these laws were Cereals containing Gluten, Milk, Eggs, Peanuts, Nuts, Soya, Fish, Celery, Fish, Mustard, Sesame, Sulphur Dioxide, Lupin and Molluscs. All in all this change SHOULD have made labels easier to understand, but another change in the laws meant that the may contain boxes were no longer allowed, although at the manufacturers discretion they can print may contain warnings on, but they don't HAVE to, so be aware that any products without a may contain warning could be a risk from cross contamination but may also mean they are not since they don't have to legally print that information.

Even though these laws should be easy to follow, lets see it in practise.

In the image above we can see that wheat is clearly indicated in bold, I'm sure this one is obvious to anyone that there is wheat in the ingredients therefore it contains gluten (unless it specifically states gluten free wheat like some Glutafin products but we won't get into that).

On this one, everything in the ingredients shows the product is gluten free, however the advice box says it may contain, so unless you are really brave, I would be avoiding. Not everyone does avoid though and takes the chance, as the label warns it's only a may contain, stating that the product line or factory probably uses gluten somewhere, so it is a risk you need to decide whether to take yourself.

This is the one that gets most people I think. The ingredients show there are no allergens within the ingredients, but there is no allergy advice, so does this mean the environment it is made in is not at risk of cross contamination with any allergens or is it the manufacturer just didn't want to put it? Unless I have proof otherwise such as from Coeliac UK's/Coeliac Uk's handbook (which you get when you register with them) or by contacting the manufacturer I take it as they are not at risk, simply on the premise that 99% of manufacturers DO use the allergy advice box. The only time it becomes risky is when things like "modified starch" are in the ingredients and doesn't define what it is modified from (however unless the manufacturer wishes to break the law, if it is modified from wheat they HAVE to state it), if you are unsure of some ingredients you could always check our Is This Gluten Free? blog for the most common ingredients people become unsure about. Otherwise I would say no gluten listed in the ingredients and no allergy advise is more or less fine.

We can see that egg and almonds in these ingredients are highlighted showing that in terms of gluten in ingredients it is gluten free and we also have a may contain where it doesn't mention gluten may be in it... therefore this means this item is 100% safe.

Hopefully this has helped you understand your labels a little bit better, once you remember to check for the bold (but ALWAYS double check, I have seen manufacturers make errors and forget to place a word in bold before) and check for any may contain warnings you are on to a winner.

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