Allergy warnings confusing and overused: report

More than 65  percent of packaged foods, and an even greater proportion of snack foods, come with some form of allergy caution, a recent research report has found.

Allergy cautions, including those warning that a product may have come into contact with nuts, are so commonly used they are actually making it difficult for consumers to make the right purchasing decisions, says Professor Katie Allen, lead author of a research report in the latest issue of the Medical Journal of Australia.

According to, Allen said there are so many different forms of precautionary labelling statements that consumers don't know what to believe, and many parents of children with allergies completely ignore some warnings.

Questionnaires answered by the parents of 497 children indicated that the terms "same factory" and "same premises" are taken least seriously, while "may contain", "may be present" and "same equipment" are taken most seriously.

This is despite previous research showing that peanut residues are more common in products that have the term "shared facility" as an allergy warning than those branded with "may contain".

In 2007, the food manufacturing industry put together a standardised system called VITAL, which last year was updated to VITAL 2.0, after discovering that 350 products in 2005 have 42 different allergen statements.

However the effectiveness of VITAL is questionable as many consumers aren't familiar with it and it's based on voluntary adoption by the industry.

Allen said the industry doesn't necessarily need legislation, but would benefit from better standardisation of labelling and of the risk-assessment methods used by the industry.


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