Food allergen labelling research highlights the confusion that puts customers at risk

As the Food Standards Agency (FSA) Board backs mandatory full ingredient labelling for foods that are pre-packed for direct sale (PPDS), new research launched today by food safety experts Navitas Group highlights how confusion around existing food allergen labelling puts customers at risk.

Navitas research found that almost half (48%) of those who said they look for allergen information when eating out were not fully aware of the different labelling regulations around food freshly prepped and packaged in a food outlet for direct sale and food pre-packed offsite. This confusion is despite recent high profile tragedies linked to food allergens.

While 52% of people who look for allergen information do understand the different allergen labelling regulations, 23% thought that the labelling regulations for food freshly prepped and packaged in a food outlet for direct sale and food pre-packed offsite were the same and 25% were unsure whether the rules differed.

Currently, food classed as PPDS does not need to have a full ingredients label with allergens highlighted. Instead, it’s expected that customers themselves ask staff about possible allergens and that staff have received training around allergen awareness.

The FSA believes that full ingredient labelling will deliver a significant improvement on current practices, and greater consistency by following the same labelling system that consumers are familiar with, as found on packaged food. Navitas’s insight confirms the need for this approach.

Over half (53%) of respondents who look for allergen information said they tend to look for such information on a label in the first instance, while only 24% said they would ask staff first.

When asked directly about PPDS food some 70% said allergens were an item of information they would expect to find on the label of a sandwich or food item freshly prepared and packed for direct sale. This was the most frequently cited option after the best before date (71%) and before the date prepared (65%), nutritional information (54%) and calories (50%).

Further highlights from the research include:

  • 86% of consumers who look for allergy information avoid restaurants where serving and waiting staff do not appear confident about allergens in freshly produced food or where allergen information isn’t clear.


  • 83% of those who look for allergy information expect kitchens to have up to date technology and systems to minimise the risk posed from allergens.


  • More than three quarters (77%) of those who look for allergy information would be put off eating at restaurants and other food outlets that had breached allergen regulations within the last three months. This compares to 37% of consumers in general.

Ben Gardner, CEO of Navitas Group commented: “Our research highlights just why there needs to be mandatory full ingredient labelling for foods that are pre-packed for direct sale: the current system is simply not consistent and causes confusion.”

He adds: “Our message to food businesses wondering how to get to grips with allergen labelling is that it doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. For less than the cost of a cup of coffee a day there are simple and easy to understand solutions which will not only safeguard your business but also protect and reassure your customers.”

Nathalie Newman @IntolerantG the food & allergy writer, presenter and leading allergy campaigner, said: “The recommendations that full ingredient labelling should be mandatory for all pre-packed food for direct sale to consumers is very welcome. It is reassuring for the allergy community to see that allergies are finally being taken more seriously, with food outlets hopefully listing ALL ingredients in the near future in order to protect customers with allergies. Clear labelling and a good understanding of the implications of cross-contamination, combined with robust procedures in place mean that anyone with allergies can eat out more safely.”