When researchers assessed consumers’ understanding of allergy information on food labels, less than half of people found the information to be clear.
The study, published in Clinical and experimental allergy, involved two separate experiments with a total of 96 consumers with food allergies and 105 without. Investigators first randomly presented 18 different food products with labels suggesting that the peanut was, may or was not an ingredient, and then presented three different information formats: “Produced in a factory” and “May contain” or “Traces of”. The allergen precautionary labels (PAL) were particularly problematic, with consumers assigning a risk of reaction between 2% and 99% and comprehensibility ratings between 1% and 98%. This suggests that warnings such as “may contain peanuts” have little value to consumers and may lead to inappropriate dietary restrictions or risky behavior.
In addition, many consumers interpret “Factory produced” to reflect a weaker warning than “May contain”. From a communication perspective, it makes sense for consumers to attribute different levels of risk to differently worded warnings. But since producers probably want to communicate the exact same level of risk with each of these different warnings, we recommend that you use only the PAL wording. “
Bregje Holleman, PhD, Lan author, University of Utrecht, The Netherlands
Holleman, BC, et al. (2021) Poor understanding of allergen labeling by allergic and non-allergic consumers. Clinical and experimental allergy. doi.org/10.1111/cea.13975.