To increase consumers levels of confidence in prepacked and non-prepacked items, the Food Standards Agency (FSA), is looking to improve food hypersensitivity (FHS) labelling. The agency plans to introduce a more standardised approach for precautionary allergen labelling (PAL), offering more support for businesses to apply PAL when necessary and improving allergen cross contamination risk management.
At the recent FSA quarterly board meeting, a paper presented to the board found most people with FHS wanted to see more standardisation in menu labelling, this was broadly supported by the board.
Concerns were raised regarding the pressure this would put on businesses to deliver on this standardisation, which has led to the FSA board committing to do more work on how they can deliver the changes and provide the support that food businesses would require. The board added into the report that they would look to learn from the Irish system, where allergen labelling is already more uniformly applied.
The board paper focused on three key themes: the importance of clear, consistent and accurate information about allergens, the challenge of finding solutions which can be implanted effectively and safely across different types of business; and the FSA’s decision not to recommend legislation changes at this point in time.
A key point of concern for board members was the lack of focus on including written allergen information on menus. The report had recommended that “proactively asking consumers about allergies is best practice” despite FSA research finding that “written information supported by verbal communication” is most trusted by those with food hypersensitivity.
But board members suggested not having rules on written information could lead to mistakes made by staff and was therefore too reliant on consistent staff training, which could be difficult to ensure considering the high rates of staff turnover in the food industry.
In response to these concerns, FSA chair Susan Jebb said the FSA would carry out further research into the pros and cons of written information on menus. She said that while potentially beneficial to consumers, it came with a huge burden for businesses. She also raised that it could also lead to inaccuracies and inconsistencies in even the “best-run kitchens”.
The report also outlines plans to provide an online structured training programme for staff through the food industry to improve their behaviour and knowledge of allergens by December 2025.