Identifying allergens in food

By law, certain allergens must be declared on food labels in New Zealand. Find out more about labelling requirements, and what to do if you suspect an undeclared allergen is in a food.


Food labels must show allergens

Substances and ingredients 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, shrimps, 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)
  • tree nuts and sesame seeds and their products.

Three ways food allergens may be listed

Food allergens may be listed on food labels in brackets, in bold text, or in a separate declaration.

Check the food label each time before you buy or use a product, as manufacturers do change their ingredients and processing aids from time to time.

'May contain traces of '

You may have seen some labels with statements like:

  • may contain traces of . . .
  • manufactured in a plant that also processes . . .
  • manufactured on the same equipment as a  . . .

Do not consume products with 'may contain' or similar precautionary statements if you have an allergy to the food specified after such statements.

Manufacturers use these precautionary statements 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 consult your health professional.

Some additives can contain allergens

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:

  • 306 (tocopherol) – soy
  • 322 (lecithin) – soy/egg
  • flavour – the allergen will be listed 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.

If you suspect an undeclared allergen

Contact MPI 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.

Food recalls 

Packaged foods containing unlabelled allergens may be recalled.

MPI publishes information about consumer level recalls on this website and via the MPI facebook  and twitter accounts. You can subscribe to food recall updates to receive email notifications of new recalls.

For additional information see the Allergy New Zealand website .

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