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Over half of people with food allergies (56%) have had an allergic reaction from mislabelled or unclear food packaging, with 23% having suffered multiple reactions, according to new research by GS1 UK. 

The study revealed that 70% of individuals with food allergies feel nervous when consuming food that they haven’t prepared themselves or has not been prepared by a close family member. 

GS1 UK claims that this could be down to inadequate food labelling practices in the UK, including unclear and inaccurate labelling, ambiguous phrases such as ‘may contain nuts’, and a worrying lack of consistency. 

It found that people with food allergies are almost twice as likely to distrust it compared to those without (12% vs 7%), citing concerns over accuracy (53%), vague language like ‘may contain’ (52%), small writing (27%) and the omission of their dietary requirements (13%). 

As a result, many with food allergies take to searching online (41%), looking for product leaflets (23%), visiting manufacturer websites (24%) and asking in-store staff (17%) to access this important information. 

The research also warned the ambiguity surrounding what precautionary allergen labels (PAL) such as ‘may contain’ and ‘free from’ mean to consumers. With a widespread belief (72 percent) amongst respondents that if something is marketed as ‘free from’, it needs to be completely free from specific ingredients like gluten, dairy or nuts. 

”It is true that a product must be free from a specified allergen, but labelling something as free from does not mean it is necessarily free from all allergens,” said GS1 UK.

Leading food allergy expert, Professor Adam Fox commented: “There are devastating consequences of undeclared allergens or unclear labelling. The lack of legislation surrounding precautionary allergen labelling, terms like ‘may contain’ is a huge concern”.

Sarah Atkins chief marketing officer and membership director of GS1 UK explained that undeclared ingredients and unclear labelling can have devastating consequences for people with allergies: “Both brands and retailers need to ensure that consumers are kept informed and protected with product data they can trust”.

Food businesses are required to provide information on these 14 allergenic ingredients used in their products

1) Celery

2) Cereals containing gluten

3) Crustaceans

4) Eggs

5) Fish

6) Lupin

7) Milk

8) Molluscs

9) Mustard

10) Nuts

11) Peanuts

12) Sesame seeds

13) Soya

14) Sulphur dioxide (sometimes known as sulphites)

You can find out more about food labelling here.