People can react to a huge range of different foods and food ingredients, which makes life pretty tough not only for the allergy sufferer, but also for food manufacturers. However, new food legislation is coming into force over the next 12 months which will create a more universal approach to allergen labelling - something that has been welcomed by consumers and the food industry alike.
Food manufacturing companies who practice due diligence when it comes to food production will know exactly where their ingredients come from, and whether there are any known allergens present in the food (or potentially through contamination of the ingredients). Being up-to-date with the science is important, too: knowing what foods could cause a reaction lets companies make informed decisions about the ingredients they use.
The existing food labelling law lists 14 of the most common food allergens and requires them to be clearly labelled on any pre-packed food sold in the UK. This list obviously doesn't cover every single food that might trigger an allergy or intolerance, but it goes a long way to help support people with the most common food allergies and intolerances.
The 14 major food allergens the law mentions are:-
- Cereals containing gluten (wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelt, kamut or their hybridised grains)
- Crustaceans (shellfish)
- Milk (including lactose)
- Nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, pecan nuts, Brazil nuts, pistachio nuts, macadamia or Queensland nuts)
- Sesame seeds
- Sulphur dioxide and sulphites
If any of these 14 major allergens are included in a recipe, or are knowingly added to a food, the new legislation requires that they be declared in the ingredients panel, in boldface, so that it's easy for the consumer to see exactly which potential allergens are in a food. The best news for allergic people, however, is that the new law also requires the label to give the common name for each allergen [e.g. “whey hydrolysate (milk)”], which should go a long way toward simplifying things. Just think, no more memorising lists of complicated ingredients!
Thanks to the new laws, anyone who wants to avoid a specific allergen will soon be able to use food labels to quickly and easily make an informed decision about the food they buy and eat – a real bonus. (All manufacturers are required to label their packaged foods this way by December 2014, so you'll probably start to see changes in your supermarket very soon!)