The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has today (18th June 2012) issued a report entitled “Audit of Irish Food Manufacturer Allergen Controls and Labelling”. The results of the audit reveal that the management and control of food allergens in some food businesses was insufficient to protect the health of people with food allergies or intolerances.
The report should serve as a reminder to food businesses of the importance of correct product labelling. Food labelling is of high importance in the food industry at the moment following the coming into force of the EU Regulation on the provision of food information to consumers. This Regulation will introduce significant changes to the way food is labelled.
The FSAI allergen report makes a number of recommendations including that food businesses undertake a review of their labelling strategies to ensure that legal requirements are met and that precautionary labels are applied on a risk basis and also that businesses should review their systems for approving new or revised labels to ensure that legal requirements are met.
The FSAI audit, which was undertaken in 12 food manufacturing businesses of varying sizes across different industry sectors, showed that food allergen labelling was applied in an inconsistent and sometimes incorrect manner.
Food information must be accurate and should be consistent in the way in which it is presented. The report notes that 8 food businesses used different allergen formats depending on the type of product involved and labels in 3 of the businesses audited did not declare allergenic ingredients that were present in the final product.
The report also considers the practice of precautionary labelling such as ‘may contain…’ or ‘produced in a factory that uses…’ followed by the name of one or more of the specified allergens. While this practice can provide very useful information for vulnerable consumers, this type of labelling should never be used as a substitute for proper and adequate control of allergens.
The audit results show that in 5 of the businesses inspected precautionary labelling was considered unjustified and inappropriate. This could be misleading and could amount to a breach of general food labelling law. In some instances this type of labelling was only present because it was required by customers even though there was little or no risk that the allergenic ingredient was present in the food.
The consequences of inaccurate or incorrect allergen labelling can have serious consequences for consumers who have food allergies or food intolerances. Failing to comply with labelling requirements can result in enforcement action, including prosecution as well as food businesses being required to undertake product recalls or withdrawals. The FSAI puts food allergen alerts on its website.
Further information about the allergen audit and to access a copy of the report see: http://www.fsai.ie/allergens_compliance_audit_18062012.html