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Food Labelling

Allergy to food is a chronic disease arising from a reaction of the immune system when exposed to certain ingredients that the body perceives as dangerous.

In the European Union, 17 million Europeans suffer from food reactions, of which 3.5 million are under the age of 25.

Allergic reactions to food

The eight most common foods that trigger an allergic reaction are cow’s milk, egg, soy, peanut, tree nuts, fish and shellfish. EU further recognises celery, gluten, lupin, molluscs, mustard, sesame and sulphites as allergens.

When a patient is exposed to the food they are allergic to, the body starts releasing histamine and other substances to fight the food ingested. Reactions may arise within a few seconds after eating the food or delayed by up to a couple of hours. Amongst many others, the symptoms of a food allergy reaction include itching of the lips, vomiting, skin swelling, fatigue, depression, headache or bloating.

Almost 10% of food allergic people may have acute anaphylactic reactions that could be fatal to their lives.

Food allergy treatments

While there is no cure for food allergies, the most important behaviour for patients is to avoid the food allergen causing reactions. It is therefore crucial that the full list of ingredients are disclosed to patients, be in a packed products or served by a food operator.

To avoid that people living with food allergies also suffering from bad nutrition, products need to carry labels in order for consumers to identify whether products contain ingredients they are sensitive to.

In case of exposure to the food allergen, patients are prescribed with antihistaminic and, in the case of severe allergic reaction and anaphylactic shocks, patients are prompted to receive an injection of adrenaline.

Food labelling legislation in Europe

Over the last decade, the number of allergic children younger than five years old has doubled, while visits to the emergency room due to anaphylactic shocks have increased seven-fold.

The European Union Regulation on the provision of food information for consumers, that entered into force in 2014, identifies a list of 14 allergens that need to be labelled (eggs, milk, fish, crustaceans, molluscs, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds, cereals containing gluten, soybeans, celery and celeriac, mustard, lupin and sulphites).

Ingredients on food products must be emphasised and available all the time for consumers.

In the case of products may have been in contact with other allergens accidentally, something called cross-contamination, producers can choose to voluntarily indicate the risk of a presence of an allergen. Cross contamination may be caused during food production (when using same production machines) while transporting and storing food, and during food preparation (due to allergens on a surface or an object).

Differences between food allergy and food intolerance

In contrast to food allergies, food intolerances are caused by enzyme deficiency, responsible for a lack of tolerance against certain food ingredients. While the cause is different for food intolerances, it is eventually resulting in the same symptoms as for food allergies.

EFA’s work on food allergy

  • EFA works closely with the European Commission Directorate General for Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE) on key aspects related to allergen management and labelling in the EU.
  • As a registered stakeholder at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) since 2017, EFA brings the food allergy patient views on issues around allergenicity of foods, including novel products.
  • Since 2019, EFA is an Observer at the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) actively contributing to the discussions of the Codex Committee for Food Labelling (CCFL) and the Codex Committee for Food Hygiene (CCFH).

Emerging issues on food allergen labelling

Food labelling is a constantly evolving discussion at the global level. It is crucial that the views of the food allergy community are reflected in all decisions affecting their health.

The advancement of technology has helped the emergence of new means of accessing food and information about it. For example, e-commerce of food has flourished in recent years; similarly, more and more often food information is provided through electronic means.

EFA’s positions are based on the principle that consumers must always be aware about the safety of their food, including information on allergens. Therefore, e-commerce operators must ensure that consumers are informed in advance of the purchase. In the meantime, digital technology can improve access to food information. However, it must not replace information on the package, as this will put both practical and technical barriers on the access to food information.

To improve health and quality of life for people with food allergies, EFA advocates for:

  • The full food ingredient list should be always indicated both for pre-packed and non-pre-packed foods (currently, there are exceptions based on the size of the package of the food), as some people may be allergic to foods, other than the 14 identified allergens in EU law.
  • Written information on the presence of allergens in non-pre-packed foods e.g. in the hospitality sector is the most reliable means to provide detailed information for allergic consumers.
  • Precautionary Allergen Labelling, typically stated as “may contain” should be mandatory, used and worded under common rules, backed by appropriate risk assessment and based on science-derived reference doses for each individual allergen.
  • Training in allergen management and labelling must become mandatory for all involved actors across EU Member States, including food manufacturers, hospitality personnel, food inspectors, and patients living with food allergy


EFA’s documents and activities on food allergy

At the EU level:

At the Codex level:



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