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28 February 2024

Allergen labelling on food: The latest on new rules

On 25 February, new food allergen labelling laws came into effect. The Plain English Allergen Labelling rules stipulate how common allergens must be declared, making allergen information clearer and easier to find on food labels.

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The new requirements are helpful for people with a food allergy or a food intolerance, so they can decide if a food is safe to eat. Allergic reactions may include anaphylaxis, immune reactions such as in Coeliac disease, and other adverse health reactions such as asthma.

Allergy NZ CEO, Mark Dixon, said Allergy NZ is thrilled with the labelling improvements that now apply.

“Clear and consistent labelling in a specific location on food labels will help people with allergies and intolerances choose safe products without putting them at risk of an allergic event. Even a small trace of an allergen can be dangerous and the only way to manage an allergy is to avoid the allergen. This is particularly important for young children, and people diagnosed by their doctor with multiple food allergies.”

What are the changes?

Under the new rules there’s several new requirements:

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  • Allergens must be listed in bold font in the ingredients list as well as in a separate “Contains” allergy statement. The entire “Contains” statement must be in bold.
  • There’s a list of 21 food allergens (up from 10) that must be listed as their prescribed name. Generic names such as “nuts” are no longer allowed – instead, food labels must disclose the type of nut such as cashews or almonds. “Wheat” must be listed separately to “gluten”. “Fish, mollusc or crustacea” must also be specified.
  • There’s also rules about declaring the presence of royal jelly, bee pollen and propolis.

A transition period applies for food packaged and labelled before 25 February. These foods may be sold for a further two years (until 25 February 2026). Allergen labelling still applies to these products, but not in the new format.

What about ‘may contain’ statements?

“May contain” statements aren’t covered by the regulations. These voluntary statements refer to allergens that aren’t intentionally in the food. Instead, it’s possible the allergen is present due to accidental cross contact and the company isn’t sure they have eliminated the risk of a particular allergen.

Mark Dixon said past use of these precautionary “may contain” statements by manufacturers was often inconsistent, and a number of alternatives applied, which was very confusing for consumers.

“Consumers with food allergies are advised to avoid foods that ‘may contain’ their allergen or to contact the manufacturer to get more information.”

For more information visit MPI’s page on allergen labelling.

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