allergy label

More than half of people with food allergies (56%) have had an allergic reaction from mislabelled or unclear food packaging, with 23% having suffered multiple reactions, according to a new study.

Research from barcode giant GS1 said that seven out of 10 people with food allergies reported feeling nervous whenever they ate food that they did not prepare or was not prepared by a close family member.

The report, which comes amid increasing concern from food safety bosses over labelling for customers with potentially fatal allergies, claims inadequate food labelling practices in the UK are a major cause of the incidents. Unclear and inaccurate labelling, ambiguous phrases such as ‘may contain nuts’, and a worrying lack of consistency on pack were identified as key contributors.

Nationally representative research was conducted by Censuswide of 1,023 people who suffer with food allergies vs 1,000 who do not.

It found 60% of people with allergies relied on reading product packaging in-store to access allergen information – but only 24% said they always found the information they needed.

People with food allergies were almost twice as likely to distrust labelling compared to those without (12% vs 7%), citing concerns over accuracy, vague language, small writing and the omission of their dietary requirements

GS1 claimed next-generation barcodes – a fusion of the linear barcode and the QR code – which it is piloting, would provide more accurate and thorough data for people with allergies.

“There are devastating consequences of undeclared allergens or unclear labelling,” said food allergy expert Professor Adam Fox. “The lack of legislation surrounding precautionary allergen labelling, terms like ‘may contain’ is a huge concern. Next-generation QR codes can only help to provide the transparency needed to keep people with food allergies safe in what has become the potential lottery of food labelling.”

Last month, the FSA launched a campaign warning shoppers of the risk of food labelled as vegan which may contain allergens. Julianne Ponan, CEO of Creative Nature Superfoods, who has been campaigning for a major overhaul of free-from food aisles, said: “I’m a sufferer of anaphylaxis to all peanuts, treenuts, sesame seeds and certain additives. Unclear food labelling can be a matter of life and death. A huge number of brands are lazy on labelling. Choosing to protect themselves, not the consumer.”

Sarah Atkins, CMO and membership director of GS1 UK, said: “Undeclared ingredients and unclear labelling can have devastating consequences for people with allergies. Both brands and retailers need to ensure that consumers are kept informed and protected with product data they can trust. QR codes powered by GS1 can address this challenge, providing consumers with instant access to the information they need to stay safe and well”.