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Why are there only 14 allergens?

In 2003 12 top allergens were covered in Annex IIIa of the EU directive 2003/89/EC which is the directive which covers the labelling of allergens in food. The original 12 in 2003 were

    1. Cereals containing gluten
    2. Crustaceans
    3. Eggs
    4. Fish
    5. Peanuts
    6. Soya beans
    7. Milk
    8. Tree nuts
    9. Celery
    10. Mustard
    11. Sesame Seeds
    12. Sulphur Dioxide

This was not a static list and work into better understanding of food allergies across Europe continued.

EuroPrevall was a large-scale study which launched in June 2005 across Europe. It consisted of 3 main parts, birth cohort studies, Community Studies and Outpatient Clinic Studies. The project was funded by the EU to inform on the bigger picture surrounding the incidence of allergic reactions to food in different European countries, advise on the effect of allergies on the quality of life of sufferers, standardising allergy diagnosis and work towards making standardised food labelling across the EU.

In January 2008 a proposal was put forward by the European Commission to look at labelling issues which had arisen since the last EU directive and reviewing all the new allergy research in the EuroPrevall studies. This was discussed in 2011 by European Parliament and EU Regulation 1169/2011 was published in November 2011. These directives were more explicit in what was covered by the regulations. At this time Molluscs and Lupin were added to the original 12, taking the number of allergens to be labelled up to 14.

What do other countries label as allergens?

Most countries follow the guidelines of the Codex Alimentarius, which is a collection of international standards and recommendations for food safety and quality.

The Codex Alimentarius recommends that food labels should declare the presence of any of the following allergens or their derivatives, when they are used as ingredients or processing aids in food products:

    - Cereals containing gluten (wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelt)
    - Crustaceans
    - Eggs
    - Fish
    - Peanuts & soybeans
    - Milk & milk products (including lactose)
    - Tree nuts
    - Sulphites (sulfites) in concentrations of 10 mg/kg or more

Some countries may have additional or different requirements for food allergen labelling, based on their own national regulations. The US requires food labels to declare 9 allergens, including sesame (as of 2023), but not sulphites.

Japan recommends food labels to declare 27 allergens, including abalone, mackerel, squid, salmon roe, buckwheat, matsutake mushroom, yam, apple, banana, kiwifruit, peach, beef, chicken, gelatin and pork.

You can find a detailed chart of food allergen labelling by country on the Food Allergens – International Regulatory Chart (FARRP)

Are the list of allergens likely to change?

The list of allergens is unlikely to remain static forever. The EuroPrevall studies may have concluded, but there is another large-scale follow-up study called iFAMM, Integrated Approaches to Food Allergen and Allergy Risk Management. These newer studies will incorporate study data from the US and Australia as well as continuing studies in Europe.

What is precautionary allergen labelling?

The term "may contain"’" sometimes appears on packaging. This is called precautionary allergen labelling and indicates that the food may have been cross contaminated with the allergen. "Not suitable for…" is another precautionary allergen label. These products are not suitable for people with severe allergic reactions and anaphylaxis.

You may be interested in reading more about food allergies on the "10 Allergy Questions Answered" Page.

Studies under EuroPrevall

Prevalence of food sensitization and probable food allergy among adults in India: the EuroPrevall INCO study, 2016

The EuroPrevall outpatient clinic study on food allergy: background and methodology, 2015

The EuroPrevall birth cohort study on food allergy: baseline characteristics of 12,000 newborns and their families from nine European countries, 2011

Can we define a tolerable level of risk in food allergy? Report from a EuroPrevall/UK Food Standards Agency workshop, 2011

Online version of the food allergy quality of life questionnaire–adult form: validity, feasibility and cross‐cultural comparison, 2011

The multinational birth cohort of EuroPrevall: background, aims and methods, 2010

Health‐related quality of life of food allergic patients: comparison with the general population and other diseases, 2010

The EuroPrevall surveys on the prevalence of food allergies in children and adults: background and study methodology, 2009

Factors influencing the incidence and prevalence of food allergy, 2009

Food allergy QoL questionnaire for children aged 0–12 years: content, construct, and cross‐cultural validity, 2008

A framework for measuring the social impact of food allergy across Europe: a EuroPrevall state of the art paper, 2007

Other Articles and Resources

Food allergy outside the eight big foods in Europe: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Prevalence estimates of eight big food allergies in Europe: Updated systematic review and meta-analysis, 2023

Real-life evaluation of tolerance to foods with precautionary allergen labeling in children with IgE-mediated food allergy, 2023

Historical and social science perspectives on food allergy, 2023

Precautionary allergen labeling: Current communication problems and potential for future improvements, 2023

Food Allergens - International Regulatory Chart, 2023

Food Allergy Labelling Laws: International Guidelines, 2023

Cheat Sheet - Allergen Labelling by Country - ESHA, 2021

Scientific Opinion on the evaluation of allergenic foods and food ingredients for labelling purposes, 2014

Evaluation of allergenic foods and food ingredients for labelling purposes, 2014

Food Standards Agency - Top 14 Allergens

Directive 2003/89/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council, 2003

European Commission - Food information to consumers - legislation

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