When the Food Standards Agency sends out an allergy alert, the result for food manufacturers can be costly. Withdrawing products, relabelling and dealing with bad publicity are all expensive, and, according to the FSA, incidents are becoming more common.

It issued 40 allergy alerts in the first seven months of 2008 compared with 25 in the same period last year. To counter the trend the FSA has this week launched online training, designed to guide anyone from factory managers, factory floor staff and local authority inspectors through food labelling law.

It is free, and Sue Hattersley, the FSA’s lead allergy official, said it should help cut the number of alerts. “After an incident the company would normally withdraw the product. Often it can be relabelled with the allergen listed, but this obviously has an impact on the business. This tool is an interactive training module freely available to anyone.”

Some of the most common allergens involved in alerts are milk, soya, wheat and nuts, and so far this year the most common reason for taking products off the shelves is undeclared ingredients. The site can be found at http://allergytraining.food.gov.uk