230% increase in allergen incidents reported by FSA
The FSA has published its Annual Report on Incidents. This report examines the 1,514 contamination incidents involving foods, feeds and the food-related environment reported to it in 2015.
It noted an increase involving the presence of allergens not declared on the food label from 89 in 2014 to 206 in 2015. The report speculates that this increase can be attributed at least in part to the change in labelling requirements introduced in 2015 by the EU's new food labelling regulation, which obliges manufacturers to list all ingredients on a product's label and to indicate on that list which of the ingredients is or contains an allergen.
My view is that it is also attributable to the potential criminal penalties involved. It is a criminal offence to breach the positive obligation imposed by the EU General Food Law on a manufacturer to initiate a recall and co-operate with the authorities when it discovers the presence of an undeclared allergen in its food. Furthermore, a failure to declare an allergen is virtually the only provision in the labelling regulation which is a criminal offence. The size of penalties for food safety related offences has been massively increased by the new Sentencing Guidelines issued by the Sentencing Council.
Anecdotal evidence from a regular reading of the allergen alerts issued by the FSA suggests that the presence of undeclared allergens is largely due not to the manufacturer failing to identify that an ingredient is an allergen, nor to accidental cross-contamination, but to the list of ingredients itself being incomplete, leading to a failure by those responsible for auditing the label to identify the allergen.