The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) is seeking stakeholder input on official advice for the proper use of precautionary allergen labels (PALs). PALs are commonly seen as “may contain” warnings on food packaging in the UK.

Stakeholders who wish to respond to the consultation can do so by visiting the consultation page. The consultation closes on Monday, May 22, 2023.

Under the new advice from FSA, and to ensure compliance with food law, food businesses are asked to specify which of the 14 major allergens to which a PAL refers—for example, using “may contain peanuts” or “may contain tree nuts” rather than the generic “may contain nuts.” FSA is also recommending that PALs are only applied after a risk assessment, to ensure that both consumer safety and choice are not unnecessarily affected.

Additionally, FSA is asking for comments on new guidance stating that PALs should not be applied for the same allergen that products are also claiming to be “free from.” For example, a product labeled as “dairy free” should not be labeled with a “may contain milk” statement as well.

The updated guidance also advises businesses not to use No Gluten-Containing Ingredients Statements (NGCIs), such as “this menu has been designed for a non-gluten diet.” Instead, FSA recommends that only the phrases “gluten-free” or “low-gluten” be used, because NGCIs have been found to mislead consumers.

The proposed changes were supported by over 90 percent of respondents to a related consultation that was launched in December 2021. While the use of PALs is voluntary, FSA stresses that it is important that it should be as accurate and, when it is used, it should be as helpful to consumers as possible.