The provision of ingredient labelling, claims, 'may contain' statements and claims for ‘free from’ on foods can be fraught with confusion. The Food and Drink Federation publication of guidance on gluten labelling should therefore assist food businesses who are dealing with the best way of labelling of gluten on their products.
The term ‘gluten’ is the general name that collectively refers to the storage protein fractions (ie prolamins and glutelins) found in wheat and other related cereal grains (e.g. rye, barley, which are insoluble in water. It is estimated that gluten constitutes around 80% of the total protein in most cereals. Prolamins are the main storage proteins responsible for the immune reaction in coeliac disease and these differ depending on the cereal source. Most people with intolerance to gluten can include oats in their diet without adverse effect however due to ongoing research and the contamination risk from other cereals containing gluten, oats are deemed cereals containing gluten within the law.
Food Information to Consumers Regulation (FIC) 1169/2011 Annex II defines the cereals containing gluten as: wheat, rye, barley, oats and products thereof.
The labelling of foods where cereals containing gluten are intentionally added to the product is regulated. It has now become industry best practice to use an allergy advice statements, such as: ‘For allergens see ingredients in bold.’ It is not permitted to declare and emphasis only ‘gluten’ for allergen labelling purposes, an emphasised reference to the specific cereal in the ingredients list is needed. This is because a gluten intolerance is not an allergy, the cereal containing the gluten is what should be declared and emphasised in bold font.
Regulation 828/2014 section 10 lists regulated claims about gluten to inform the consumer of its absence i.e. ‘gluten-free’ or reduced presence i.e. ‘very low gluten’ along with optional accompanying statements i.e. ‘suitable for coeliacs’ or ‘suitable for people intolerant to gluten’. No other claims regarding gluten such as ‘free-from gluten’ can be used as they are not prescribed within the legislation. The regulated claim ‘gluten-free’ refers to a quantitative limit (20mg/kg (ppm)) rather than an absolute absence of gluten.
A number of labelling examples and flow charts are provided in the best practice guidance; i.e. Oats are legally considered to be ‘cereals containing gluten.’ However, oats that are not contaminated with other cereals containing gluten e.g. wheat, barley and rye and analysed to contain less than 20mg/kg (ppm) of gluten (as sold) may be labelled with the ingredient claim: ‘gluten-free’. The term ‘oats’ must however still be emphasised as the allergen i.e. Ingredients: gluten-free oats, sugar, salt.
Spelt and Khorasan are both types of wheat and this should be highlighted in the ingredients list; i.e. Khorasan wheat.
Buckwheat is not related to wheat and is ‘therefore not an EU regulated allergen for labelling purposes.’
Specific criteria for the making of gluten absence claims is set out at section 10 of the best practice guidance; i.e. ‘very low gluten’ has a condition of no more than 100mg/kg of gluten as sold to the final consumer with the additional criteria that it must consist or contain one or more ingredient made from wheat, rye, barley, oats or their crossbred varieties which have been specially processed to reduce the gluten content. There is also a flow diagram for gluten absence claims.
Precautionary Allergen Labelling (PAL)
This is an area that extends across a number of food products and the general guidance on this is available from the FDF on Guidance on ‘Free-From’ Allergy Claims.
Overall advice is that the probability of cross-contamination in products and the risk arising from it must be taken into consideration by food business operators. Food business operators should conduct a full and thorough risk assessment before deciding whether a precautionary allergen labelling (PAL) statement (i.e. “may contain”) is required on certain products due to unintended allergen presence. Key risk assessment factors include; supplier quality assurance, raw material approval controls, facility design, production controls and product testing.
There is currently no specific EU or UK legislation governing precautionary allergen labelling, therefore statements are governed by general food safety requirements not to place unsafe food on the market under Regulation 178/2002. Precautionary allergen labelling statements are voluntary and FIC 1169/2011 states that ‘voluntary information shall not mislead the consumer, shall not be ambiguous or confusing and shall be based ot he relevant scientific data’.
Allergen management guidance is available from the Food Standards Agency (FSA, 2006) and FoodDrinkEurope (FDE, 2013).
PAL and ‘Free-From’ Labelling
It is not recommended practice for a food label to declare a generic ‘may contain cereals containing gluten’ precautionary allergen labelling (PAL) statement whilst also claiming ‘gluten-free’. As ‘gluten-free’ is perceived as an absolute claim there is potential for consumer confusion. Like all other ‘free from’ allergen claims manufacturers of gluten-free products must undertake a diligent substantiation process to support the claim.
For further advice on specific food labelling queries please contact Jessica Burt; [email protected]