Identifying allergens in food

Finding allergens on food labels

Allergens that must be declared on food labels in New Zealand and Australia are:

  • cereals containing gluten and their products (wheat, rye, barley, oats)
  • crustacea and crustacean products (crab, prawn, crayfish)
  • egg and egg products
  • fish and fish products (including shellfish)
  • milk and milk products
  • peanut and soybean (including their products)
  • added sulphite (above a certain level – there is more on this later in this guide)
  • tree nuts and sesame seeds and their products.

There are three ways you might see allergens listed on labels:

Allergens are commonly listed on a label in three ways:   1. in brackets e.g. (contains milk);   2. in bold e.g. contains MILK - upper case used here for emphasis instead of bold; or   3. in a separate declaration e.g. Contains wheat and milk.

Example of food labels

Food labels should be checked each time before purchase or use as manufacturers do change their ingredients and processing aids from time to time.

You may have seen some labels with the statement "may contain traces of X" or "manufactured in a plant that also processes X" or even "manufactured on the same equipment as X". Do not consume products with 'may contain' or similar precautionary statements if you have an allergy to that food. Manufacturers use this statement to cover a variety of situations. As companies continue to improve allergen management, these statements will increasingly represent more accurate risk levels. For individual advice please consult your health professional.

Food Labelling and food advertising

The risk of allergens in food additives

People commonly ask whether food additives contain allergens. Because very small amounts of additives are used in foods, the amount of allergens is likely to be even smaller.

All food additives are listed on the food label, so you can avoid these if you are very sensitive. Check with the manufacturer if you are unsure of the source of an additive. Additives containing possible allergens are:

  • E06 (tocopherol) - soy
  • 322 (lecithin) - soy/egg
  • Flavour - will list the allergen if it is present
  • Wine - additives in the refining process of wine include milk, egg and fish. Evidence suggests there is only a very small risk that these are present in the final product.

Undeclared allergens – what to do if you discover one

You need to contact your local Health Protection Officer if you suspect:

  • a food product containing an undeclared allergen to be the cause of a reaction
  • a food item is not properly labelled
  • you have been given the wrong information about food in a restaurant, which then led to a reaction.

Look in the White Pages under 'Public Health' to find the contact details for your local Health Protection Officer at your Public Health Service.

Foods with undeclared allergens might be recalled

Foods found to contain significant unlabelled allergens are recalled.

Recall notices are placed on our website, printed in major newspapers and broadcast on radio.

Food Recalls