HomeHealthcareMay contain allergens, ABC

May contain allergens, ABC

'It contains'and'May contain' – 'Tracks di'(?) -'allergens'and'allergenic ingredients'. What substances and where, on what single food product or food whatsoever? The ABC of the cd 'Precautionary Allergen Labeling'(PAL) to follow.

Allergens, the duty of information

The allergen directive 15 years ago, introduced the duty to communicate the presence of certain substances capable of stimulating allergic reactions or intolerances on the labels of all prepackaged food products. (1)

The rules 'Food Information to 'Consumers'took over and strengthened the information regime for the protection of allergic and celiac patients, providing for the following.

1) The ingredients list, on the labels of prepacked food products, must show graphic evidence of the key words relating to the allergenic ingredients (eg. wheat),

2) foods sold in bulk or pre-wrapped for the purposes of direct sales, they must always indicate the allergens present, with specific regard to each of the products on sale,

3) foods sold or served by the community end consumers, even free of charge, must in turn be duly accompanied by precise information on the presence of allergens.

Allergenic ingredients object of specific mandatory information are those indicated in the mandatory list referred to in reg. EU 1169/11, Annex II. (2) Which they must be precisely identified

They must therefore be mentioned, for example, 'wheat, barley, rye' rather than 'cereals containing gluten'. 'Almonds and walnuts' instead of 'dried nuts'

The European Commission updated its own in 2017 guidelines on allergens, where confirmation of the aforementioned provisions is found. (3)

'Contains'and'May contain', a question of PAL

Irony of fatethe acronym PAL indicate 'Protect a Life from Food Allergy', in food allergy education campaigns. Besides'Precautionary Allergen Labeling ', with a view to labeling.

In the only case in which - as a result of the timely application of good hygiene practices and HACCP - the operator is not able to exclude the risk of accidental contamination of the food with allergens not provided for in the recipe, the use of the words'It contains', or 'May contain'.

'It contains', or 'May contain'

This wording, in the margin of the ingredients list, must be followed by the specific name of the allergenic ingredients (as per Annex II to EU regulation 1169/11) that may remain in the food due to 'cross-contaminationn'.

With the foresight to specify the name of each of them, even when they are single fruits with shell which cannot be designated with the name of the category to which they belong. 

The reference to 'traces of ...it is to be considered prohibited, in the absence of scientific consensus on contamination thresholds below which it is possible to exclude the risk of immune reactions by allergic consumers. (4) 

The EU regulation 1169/11 indeed it requires providing consumers with clear, precise and unambiguous information.

All the more so where the news has health relevance, as in the case in question. (5)

The real risk to provide ambiguous information on the subject of allergens is to make less aware allergic consumers believe the hypothetical harmlessness of the 'Tracks', which instead can trigger an immune reaction with serious consequences for their health. (6)

Dario Dongo


(1) See dir. CE 2003/89 / CE and subsequent amendments, repealed by reg. UE 1169/11 which incorporated and strengthened its prescriptive contents.

(2) This list was developed in agreement between the European scientific authorities and national experts, on the basis of the work already shared at the level of Codex Alimentarius.

(3) The European Commission Guidelines also specify the duty to specify the cereal from which the ingredient derives'gluten'. Ex. 'gluten (barley)'.

(4) The EU regulation 1169/11 - like the allergens directive (directive 2003/89 / EC) - does not provide for or the possibility of referring to 'traces of ...', nor the meaning and conditions of use of this term. Which therefore, a fortiori, must be considered prohibited.

(5) In this regard, it is useful to remember that - pursuant to reg. CE 178/02, article 14 - food must be safe even for vulnerable categories of consumers. What are allergy sufferers and celiacs. The aforementioned standard also prescribes that the risk analysis of Food safety is performed taking into account the information accompanying the product. It follows that the food without the necessary information on the presence of the ingredients referred to in Annex II to reg. UE 1269/11 qualifies as dangerous, and must therefore be subjected to the corrective actions provided for by the 'General Food Law' (EC reg. 178/02, article 19). That is to say, immediate commercial withdrawal with notification to the competent health authority, information to consumers, commercial recall when any other measure is unsuitable to guarantee a high level of guarantee of food safety and public health.

(6) The reference to the possible presence of 'traces ofAllergenic ingredients must therefore be sanctioned for violating the loyalty criteria for consumer information, established in articles 7 and 36 of EU regulation 1169/11 (respectively, with regard to mandatory and optional information on the label).

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.

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