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Keywords:

  • food allergy;
  • precautionary labelling;
  • Voluntary Incidental Trace Allergen Labelling (VITAL)

Aims

We aimed to assess the prevalence and types of precautionary labelling statements for common food allergens on the packages of products for which these allergens were not listed as an ingredient and to investigate the uptake of the Voluntary Incidental Trace Allergen Labelling, a new risk management tool developed in Australia to assist with declaring the possible presence of allergens in food products by manufacturers. We also aimed to examine changes in the prevalence of precautionary labelling for egg, peanuts and tree nuts over a 3-year period.

Methods

All packaged processed goods in a large supermarket in Melbourne, Australia, were examined for precautionary labelling between May and July 2011.

Results

In total, 1355 products were investigated. Overall, 882 products (65%) had a precautionary statement for one or more allergens. The most common allergens listed on precautionary statements were tree nuts (36.2%) and peanuts (34.1%), followed by sesame (27.5%) and egg (22.6%). Of those that had precautionary statements, ‘May contain traces of …’ was the most common type of precautionary label used on 392 products (29.0%). This was followed by ‘May be present’ on 172 products (12.7%).

Conclusions

The use of precautionary labelling for peanut, tree nuts and egg remained high. The uptake of the Voluntary Incidental Trace Allergen Labelling ‘May be present’ statement was low in comparison with other precautionary statements, but there has been an increase since 2009.