Ian Thomas Associates

Protecting consumers using “May Contain” statements

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is seeking views on updates to its Technical Guidance on food allergen labelling and information requirements. Responses must be received no later than 22 May 2023.

If one or more of the 14 specified allergens are used as ingredients in a pre-packed food product they must be clearly highlighted in the list of ingredients.

Sometimes, one or more of these substances might inadvertently be present in the final food due to cross-contamination as a result of the production process. In these circumstances, as part of its obligation to provide safe food, the food business might wish to warn consumers by using voluntary precautionary allergen labelling (PAL i.e. using a ‘may contain’ statement).

However, inappropriate use of this type of labelling might mislead consumers and/or might unnecessarily reduce their food choices.

Two key areas under the spotlight in the review are:

  1. The use of PAL (use following a risk assessment; specifying which of the specified allergens are referred to – tree nuts and peanuts rather than simply saying nuts; providing consumers, particularly those with severe or multiple allergies, with a way to contact the business about the basis for using the PAL and not using PAL in conjunction with a “free-from” statement for the same allergen – not use ‘may contain milk’ with ‘dairy-free).
  2. No Gluten Containing Ingredients (NGCI) statements which have been used to inform consumers who avoid gluten that a particular food is suitable for them. The FSA suggests that NGCI statements can be misleading and should be avoided.

The use of gluten-free and very low gluten statements is covered by Commission Implementing Regulation 828/2014 (no more than 20 mg/kg of gluten and no more than 100 mg/kg of gluten respectively). That regulation also permits and regulates the use of accompanying statements such as, ‘suitable for people intolerant to gluten’, ‘suitable for coeliacs’, ‘specifically formulated for people intolerant to gluten’ or ‘specifically formulated for coeliacs’.

Having regard to the risks to consumers with allergies, the FSA is again raising a very important issue and is helping businesses comply with their obligations while ensuring consumers can make decisions that maximise choice but ensure safety.

Responses to the consultation are to be sent to tech.guidance.consultation@food.gov.uk

Further details about the consultation may also be found at


In Ireland, further guidance on making claims relating to gluten may be found in Guidance Note 24, one of a series of helpful guidance documents published by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. https://www.fsai.ie/resources_publications.html and enter ‘gluten’ as the key word search

This article is for information purposes only and does not constitute the provision of legal advice. If you require further information about this topic, please contact us.

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