According to a study, food allergen information given online can be lacking or provided in different formats.

Researchers evaluated the accuracy and compliance of information and labeling of substances or products causing allergies or intolerances in food and drink imported from Asia and purchased online in the United Kingdom.

Food allergen issues are a major cause of product recalls worldwide, according to a study funded by Campden BRI and published in Food Control.

The study included 768 randomly selected prepacked products that were put into 16 categories, representing items from 12 Asian countries, sourced from eight UK retailers, including six stores specializing in Asian products and two major supermarkets.

Of these products, 173 had precautionary allergen labeling (PAL), with 24 phrasings identified. PAL is voluntary and intended to communicate the risk of unavoidable, unintentional allergen presence. Example statements included “May contain X”, “May also contain traces of X”, “Made in factory processing X”, and “Produced on a line handling X”.

PALs online contained non-EU and UK allergens such as mango, tomato, and beef.  Of the 16 product categories, cereals and cereal products had the highest incidence of unintended food allergen presence declared as PAL.

Providing allergen information online
Of the 768 products, 256 emphasized or listed in bold type foods causing allergies or intolerances, and 58 emboldened or emphasized more than one but not all such foods in online ingredients lists. No foods causing allergies or intolerances were emphasized in the online ingredients list of 325 products.

Non-EU and UK food allergens were emboldened in online product information in two cases, for tomatoes and candlenuts.

Sampled products were produced by 271 manufacturers and introduced by 56 importers.

One hundred products, covering all included retailers, were purchased for verification between online product information and on-pack product labels during 2022 and 2023. 

After comparing food allergen information on the pack and online, 36 products transferred inconsistencies on the pack to online pages, and 15 were mismatched. Nine did not have any food allergens emphasized online but did on the pack, four had differing allergen information online and on the pack, and three provided PAL in online information but not on the pack.

Laboratory analysis was performed to detect milk and peanut allergens in 77 products. A total of 24 contained unintended allergens, with levels ranging from 0.2 to 6,780 mg/kg. 

“Our findings further support the need for food businesses to adopt and implement robust and effective food allergen management and food safety culture practices,” said researchers.

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