Allergenic Ingredients in Pre-Packaged Foods

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Allergenic Ingredients in Pre-Packaged Foods

In the hustle and bustle of modern-day life, pre-packaged foods have become indispensable for their convenience and diversity, catering to our ever-busy schedules and new and more varied diets.

The rise in popularity of pre-packaged foods not only triggers concerns regarding nutrition, obesity and the environment but also introduces health risks linked to the allergens they might contain. These allergens can cause an allergic reaction in certain sensitive individuals. When this allergic reaction occurs, the immune system perceives a food ingredient as harmful, leading to various physical symptoms ranging from skin rashes to more serious issues like breathing difficulties.

In this article, we look at the allergenic ingredients in pre-packaged foods, starting with identifying the fourteen major allergens recognised under food safety regulations, emphasising the necessity of precise labelling to protect consumers, as outlined by Natasha’s Law and the EU Food Information for Consumers (EU FIC) regulations. We then look into the complexities surrounding allergen labelling on pre-packaged foods and the risk of cross-contamination during production. The article also examines the steps the food industry is taking to mitigate these risks and highlights the role of consumer vigilance in managing food allergy risks.

What are the different types of pre-packaged foods?

Pre-packaged food describes food that is placed into packaging before being offered for sale to consumers. There are two types of prepacked foods:

  • Pre-packaged for Direct Sale (PPDS) – These foods are prepared and packaged at the same location where they are sold, such as sandwiches in a café or salads in a deli, where the consumer does not see these foods being made.
  • Commercially Pre-packaged Foods – These foods are prepared and packaged at a different location before being sold, including most of the food seen on supermarket shelves or in local grocery stores.

What are Considered to be Allergenic Ingredients in Pre-packaged Foods?

In the UK, regulations such as the EU Food Information for Consumers (EU FIC) and the Food Information Regulations 2014 mandate the clear identification of fourteen major allergens on the ingredient lists of all food products.

The listed allergens include:

  • Celery
  • Cereals containing gluten
  • Crustaceans
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Lupin
  • Milk
  • Molluscs
  • Mustard
  • Nuts
  • Peanuts
  • Sesame seeds
  • Soya
  • Sulphur Dioxide (also known as sulphites)

For detailed information on each of these fourteen allergens, please refer to the article titled “What are the fourteen allergens?” available on The Nationwide Caterers Association website.

Labelling and Allergenic Ingredients in Pre-packaged Foods?

Labelling is crucial for identifying allergens, offering details on the contents of the pre-packaged foods. Every pre-packaged food item is required to list ingredients, with the fourteen primary allergens prominently marked on the label, such as in bold, italic, or a different colour.

Allergens must be clearly identified by the name of the allergenic ingredient as specified in the EU FIC Annex II.

For distance selling, including transactions done online, over the phone or through catalogues, EU FIC regulations require that businesses offer the same allergen information as found in physical retail outlets. This information must be provided before the sale is finalised and at the point of delivery. These requirements, however, are not applicable to pre-packaged foods sold via vending machines.

Natasha’s Law

October 2021 saw the introduction of Natasha’s Law, named in memory of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who died due to eating a sandwich, which led to an allergic reaction because it had inadequate allergen labelling. Her death highlighted that previous food labelling regulations concerning foods prepacked for direct sale (PPDS) was not clear enough (such as sandwiches prepared and sold at the same location). The new law mandates that all PPDS food items must have ingredient listings on their labels, including clear allergen information.

Cross-contamination and Managing Allergenic Ingredients in Pre-packaged Foods

Handling allergenic ingredients in pre-packaged foods is challenging, despite rigorous food safety standards. The mixing of allergens into products during manufacturing, transit or storage, known as cross-contamination, can easily happen and is difficult to fully avoid.

Eliminating the Risks of Allergen Ingredients in Pre-packaged Foods

To reduce the risk of allergen cross-contamination in pre-packaged foods, better food production follows new best practices, helping ensure the safety of customers with allergies. Examples include:

  • Implementing specialised production lines exclusively for products without allergens.
  • Comprehensive allergen management systems monitoring the full production cycle.
  • Intensive cleaning measures to remove traces of allergens.
  • Rigorous vetting of suppliers to verify the absence of allergens in ingredients.
  • Enhanced testing and validation techniques to increase the precision of allergen detection and labelling.
  • Dedicated storage solutions for ingredients that contain allergens.
  • Strong traceability protocols to monitor ingredients and mitigate the risk of cross-contamination.
  • Adoption of allergen-free culinary methods through the establishment of controlled environments within production sites to minimize the risk of allergen contact.

The Future

The popularity of pre-packaged foods in our diet introduces both convenience and allergen management challenges. Thankfully, regulations like Natasha’s Law and the EU FIC’s rigorous labelling rules have improved consumer safety, especially for those with food allergies. The food industry’s adoption of practices for better allergen detection and contamination prevention also emphasises its commitment to safety. Yet, it’s not just up to regulators and producers; consumers also have a role in staying informed about allergens in their food too.

Online Food Allergen Awareness Training

Our online Food Allergen Awareness Training helps you safely manage food allergens, focusing on identifying common allergens, preventing cross-contact, understanding legal requirements and implementing effective allergen management practices.

Our friendly customer support team is always happy to talk through your food hygiene training options. Why not give us a call on 01327 552136, email us at, or use the live chat feature on this website to speak to us during office hours.

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