How many times have you been shopping and after picking up what seems like the perfect dinner, snack or dessert item only to have to put it down in disappointment after reading the words May contain.... The variations on this phrase seems endless; "Made in a factory containing...", "Not suitable for individuals with an allergy to..." even after the rest of the ingredients are fine. So what is the ruling behind this? Are any warnings less dangerous than others?
Well according to the Food Standards Agency, here is actually no statutory controls for labels regarding the the presence of low amounts of allergens due to cross contamination. Furthermore the guidance written is just that, guidance as the problem revolves around the fact there is no identified level of allergen that can cause a reaction. There is currently no legal requirement for labels to state a food has the presence of low amounts of allergens due to cross contamination and it seems that this is down to a business' intention to protect their customers.
The guidance behind 'may contain labels' asks the question whether the risk of cross contamination is probable rather than remote, if the allergen is on the exemption list (see the previous article on food labels here), and whether the risk can be managed before a label should be included. It is also interesting to note that the legislation behind the new allergy labels (from December 13th 2014), does not affect may contain labels in any way. The article addressing this point can be found here