In the world of food, transparency is paramount, especially when it comes to allergens. The primary objective of declaring food allergens is to ensure consumer safety. For individuals with food allergies, consuming even a trace amount of an allergen can trigger severe and potentially life-threatening reactions.
Beyond safety, food producers and sellers have a legal and ethical responsibility. Neglecting this duty can lead to legal consequences and harm a brand’s reputation. It’s not just about following the rules; it’s about demonstrating a commitment to consumer well-being.
Maintaining the integrity of allergen-free foods is vital. Proper labelling not only informs consumers but also guides food handlers and helps in preventing cross-contamination.
In addition to allergen declarations, some food labels use ‘may contain’ or ‘may be present’ statements to indicate the potential unintended presence of allergens during food manufacture. For example, you might encounter labels saying ‘may contain milk.’ This precautionary allergen labelling (PAL) is voluntary and made by food suppliers. It’s important to note that the Food Standards Code doesn’t regulate these statements.
From 24 February 2024, there are regulatory changes to Allergen labelling requirements. These changes reflect a concerted effort by both countries to prioritise consumer safety and ensure that individuals with food allergies can trust the information provided on food labels.
What Do These Changes Exactly Mean for the Alcohol industry?
Let’s break it down:
- Required Allergen Names: Food labels must now use a specific set of required names for allergens, ensuring clarity and consistency in allergen labelling.
- Listing Allergens in Bold Font: Allergens in ingredient lists must be highlighted in bold font.
- Specific Nut Names: While not super common in beer, wines and spirits, there are nine specified tree nuts, individual names must be used rather than generic terms.
- Use of ‘Fish,’ ‘Mollusc,’ or ‘Crustacea’: Depending on the specific allergenic ingredient, labels should clearly state ‘fish,’ ‘mollusc,’ or ‘crustacea’ as appropriate. However, there is an exception for isinglass (fish) used in beer or wine. (New Zealand Food Safety, 2022)
- Mandatory Contains Statement: The contains statement is a crucial part of allergen declaration. It’s now mandatory and must start with the word ‘Contains,’ followed by a clear listing of allergens. Eg: ‘May contain peanuts’
- Separating ‘Wheat’ from ‘Gluten’: ‘Wheat’ and ‘gluten’ are no longer grouped together. They must be listed as separate allergens. However, there is an exception for alcohol distilled from wheat or whey, as those products have been marked as safe for people with allergies. (New Zealand Food Safety, 2022)
These changes, implemented as part of updated regulations, aim to enhance transparency and safety in food labelling. By following these guidelines, businesses can ensure that consumers have the information they need to make safe choices about the food they consume.
Read more about this in the documents below:
New Zealand Food Safety. (2022, April). Allergen labelling – Knowing what’s in your food and how to label it. Retrieved from Ministry for Primary Industries: https://www.mpi.govt.nz/dmsdocument/50725-Allergen-labelling-Knowing-whats-in-your-food-and-how-to-label-it