Food allergen labeling
requirements in the EU and USA are similar in principle as they are meant to
reach the same results: adequately inform consumers, protect their health, and
truthfully disclose all products and ingredients that directly or indirectly
are used. However, there are some differences.
In the USA, the primary
food allergen labeling legislation is the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer
Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA). FALCPA governs allergen labeling requirements for
all FDA-regulated consumer-packaged foods but does not cover poultry, most
meats, certain egg products, or most alcoholic beverages. There are currently
no federal allergen labeling requirements for the excluded foods.
If a food product contains
what FALCPA calls one of 8 “major food allergens,” its label must have a
“Contains” statement the same font and size as a food’s ingredients list in
which it names the allergen’s source food. These major food allergens, which
account for 90% of all severe food allergen reactions, are milk, egg, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts, and
soybeans. A whey protein powder jug, for example, must include on its label
“whey” as an ingredient and a “Contains milk” statement separate from its
ingredients list. In the case of tree nuts, fish, and crustacean shellfish, the
specific animal/plant the Act requires the species to be named rather than the
food group (e.g. “walnuts, cod, or lobster.” rather than “tree nuts, fish, and crustacean
Although it is encouraged
by the FDA, FALCPA does not regulate or require the use of statements like “may
contain”, “traces of” and/or “product in a facility that handles …” These
statements are voluntary and used at the manufacturer’s discretion.
However, there are
exceptions to the above regulations for raw agricultural commodities, highly
refined oils (or their derivatives), and single ingredient foods. While the
first two are exempt entirely from allergen labeling requirements, manufacturers
may indicate major food allergens on single ingredient food packaging in one of
two ways: They may either use the traditional “Contains” statement, ideally
located somewhere on the primary display panel, as is normally required, or they
may use the major allergen food source in the food name (e.g. “all-purpose
In the European Union, food
allergen labeling is covered by the Food Information for Consumers Regulation
(“FIC”) (EU Regulation No.1169/2011). According to the FIC, all food businesses,
regardless of food product or whether they serve prepackaged or non-prepackaged
food, must declare any of following 14 major food allergens in a conspicuous
place: Cereals containing gluten; Crustaceans; Eggs; Fish; Peanuts; Soybeans; Milk;
Nuts; Celery; Mustard; Sesame; Sulphur dioxide; Lupin; and Mollusks.
Although there is no
agreed upon set of icons or symbols to indicate the presence of these allergens,
the major food allergens must be indicated distinguishably in the food’s
ingredients list. A product containing the allergen milk, for example, can say
both “skimmed milk” and “whey powder
(milk).” The regulation sets a
principle – that allergens must be labeled clearly (Commission Notice 2017/C
428/01) – but leaves the display methodology to each food business. For
non-prepackaged foods only, member states are permitted to adopt national
measures to ensure the 14 major food allergens are displayed uniformly.
There are two situations
in which the EU requires food allergens to be labeled in the same manner as the
USA: First, foods exempt from having an ingredients lists must have a
“Contains” statement if they contain one of the 14 major food allergens.
Second, foods containing nuts must declare the specific type of nut it
EU and USA labeling laws differ in both scope and means. In terms of scope, the FIC applies to all consumer foods in the EU, whereas FALCPA applies only to prepacked foods regulated by the FDA where regulations affect fewer foods and fewer allergens. In terms of means, allergens in the EU must be declared in the ingredients list in some distinguishable way; in the USA, allergens must be listed in a discrete “Contains” statement on the food’s packaging.
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