REGULATIONS – allergens on labels, the most common errors

For several years anyone who writes deals with, among other things, informing consumers of allergenic ingredients. European rules, which took off with the 2003/89 / EC Directive, have been strengthened and integrated into the 'Food Information to Consumers' Regulation (1). But misinformation is everywhere, as is evident in this brief review of the most frequent violations on food labels.

Examples of food labeling not in accordance to the EU 1169/2011 reg. Most operators have provided for, as prescribed, graphically highlighting allergens over other ingredients. Neglecting other crucial aspects for coherent information to the European standard. Some examples:

'Flour type 00', 'wheat flour'. These terms express the degree of refining, but also the cereal or legume of origin which needs to be clarified, highlighting if allergenic (see following point without forgetting soy),


'Contains gluten', 'may contain (cereals containing) gluten'. The presence of gluten is common to several cereals, but these must be individually named (corn or wheat, spelt, Khorasan wheat, rye, barley, oats), because each of them can reconnect to a specific allergy (2). And this also applies in the case of unintentional presence,

'It contains / may contain nuts'. The 1169 Regulation  reports an obligation to highlight the presence of 'nuts that is to say (…)' (3). Since, furthermore, nuts do not appear as one of the ingredients that can be given the name of that category rather than with its specific name (4), the presence of each of the individual ingredients must always be specified and highlighted. Whether it is walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, peanuts, cashew nuts (or cashews), pecans, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, the reference must be rigorously prompt and never generic,

'Margarine', 'flakes (or starch) potato', 'milk chocolate', 'balsamic vinegar'. These and many compound ingredients are often mentioned without specifying, as should, their individual components. The latter should be reported in brackets, in descending order, with graphic evidence of those that are allergenic. Except for certain rare cases (5),

'produced in a factory where you work also …'. The responsible for the information on the label (6) must provide complete and accurate information on the actual content of the food, as part of the list of ingredients. Wordings related to the production plant and its processes (7) since not contemplated by the Regulation should be construed as illegitimate (8),

'it may contain traces of …'. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has recently confirmed the impossibility of establishing a threshold of contamination with allergenic ingredients below which there is no risk of immune reactions (9). Reporting 'traces of … (allergenic ingredients)' is, therefore, an unfit communication to represent the presence of harmful substances to vulnerable consumers,

'Allergens: (…)'. The regulation does not provide that wording, the use of which may lead consumers to believe that the list that follows includes not only the ingredients listed in Annex II (10), but also the broader range of foods subject to specific sensitivity (e.g. Kiwi fruit, pineapple, strawberries, beans, yeast, nickel, nutmeg and other spices, etc.).

The team of FARE ('Food & Agriculture Requirements') is available to companies and their associations, authorities and institutions, for training and audit, label design and revision, and consulting. For information and price quotes, please write to

Dario Dongo


(1) EU Regulation 1169/11,
(2) 'Cereals containing gluten, namely: wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelt, kamut or their hybridised strains, and products thereof, except: a) glucose syrups made from wheat, including dextrose; b) wheat based maltodextrins; c) glucose syrups based on barley; d) cereals used for making alcoholic distillates including ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin '(see. EU Reg. 1169/11, App. II, paragraph 1). See also,
(3) 'Nuts, i.e almonds (Amygdalus communis L.), hazelnuts (Corylus avellana), walnuts (Juglans regia), cashew (Anacardium occidentale), pecans [Carya illinoinensis (Wangenh.) K. Koch ], Brazil nuts (Brazil nut), pistachios (Pistacia vera), macadamia or Queensland nuts (macadamia ternifolia), and products thereof, except for nuts used for making alcoholic distillates including ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin. ' (EU Reg. 1169/11, App. II, item 8),
(4) 'Ingredients given the name of a category rather than a specific name' (EU Reg. 1169/11, App. VII, Part B, title),
(5) 'The list of ingredients for compound ingredients shall not be compulsory' except for the following cases:

  1. When the composition of the compound ingredient is defined in the framework of existing legislation of the Union and insofar as the compound ingredient constitutes less than 2% in the final product; However, this provision shall not apply to food additives, subject to Article 20, letters a) to d);
  2. For compound ingredients consisting of mixtures of spices and / or herbs that constitute less than 2% of the finished product, with the exception of food additives, subject to Article 20, letters a) to d); or
  3. Where the compound ingredient is a food for which a list of ingredients is not required under Union provisions. '(EU Reg. 1169/11, Annex VI, Part E)

(6) the trademark holder with which the product is marketed, please note, the label must indicate their name or trade name and headquarters and has the primary responsibility – towards the public and the authorities – with regard to the accuracy and completeness of the information on the label (EU reg. 1169/2011, Article 8),
(7) The likely mandatory food information required by the legislation on food information fall within, in particular, in the following categories:

  1. identity and composition information, properties or other characteristics of the food;
  2. Information on the protection of consumers' health and safe use of the food. Such information shall include: i) compositional attributes of the product that may have a harmful effect on the health of certain groups of consumers (…) '(EU reg. 1169/11, Article 4,' Principles governing mandatory information on foods. 'Evidence in bold by the author of the article),

 (8) 'Any food intended for the final consumer or for mass caterers is accompanied by food information in accordance with this Regulation.' (EU Reg. 1169/11, Article 6, 'Basic requirement'),
(10) Regulation 1169 reports in fact to 'substances or products causing allergies or intolerances' (Annex II, Title).