Allergens are substances in food that are a common cause of allergic reactions or other hypersensitivity reactions. Even small amounts of an allergen might cause severe reactions. Correct labelling of food products is essential for allergic individuals and others with food hypersensitivity.

Symptoms of allergy

The symptoms of an allergic reaction can vary from mild to severe, from itching of the mouth and eyes, rhinitis, coughing, vomiting and stomach pain, to asthma, blood pressure drop and systemic reactions, which might develop into an allergic chock. Under special circumstances, death has occurred.

Other hypersensitivity reactions

All hypersensitivity reactions are not allergic reactions. Examples of other hypersensitivity reactions are celiac disease (intolerance to gluten) and lactose intolerance. The symptoms of celiac disease are stomach problems and malnutrition caused by an injury of the mucosa of the small intestine. The symptoms of lactose intolerance are flatulence and diarrhea.

Labelling and information about allergenic ingredients

Within the European Union, the labelling and information of foods are regulated by the Food Information Regulation (EC) no 1169/2011. The ingredients, which are a common cause of severe hypersensitivity reactions, are listed in Annex II of this regulation.

To simplify the choice for allergic individuals it must always be clearly stated if an ingredient from the list is present in a food. Pre-packed foods should be labelled with a list of ingredients in which the allergenic ingredients should be listed and highlighted.

Restaurants and other food business operators producing Non-prepacked foods must be able to inform which allergenic ingredients the food contains. This information can be given written or orally but the customer must be informed that this information is possible to receive (see Regulation (EC) no 1169/2011 and LIVSFS 2014:4 Livsmedelsverkets föreskrifter om livsmedelsinformation [in Swedish]).

Following allergens are listed in Annex II of 1169/2011:

  • Cereals* containing gluten e.g. wheat, rye and barley
  • Celery*
  • Crustaceans*
  • Egg*
  • Fish*
  • Lupins*
  • Milk proteins* including lactose
  • Molluscs*
  • Mustard*
  • Nuts* (Almond, Hazelnut, Walnut, Cashew, Pecan nut, Brazil nut, Pistachio nut, Macadamia nut and Queensland nut).
  • Peanuts*
  • Sesame seeds*
  • Soy beans*
  • Sulphur dioxid and sulphite at concentrations of more than 10 mg/kg or 10 mg/liter expressed as SO2.

*And products thereof

Excluding risks

Many food products contain ingredients which are known to cause allergic reactions. As described above, these ingredients have to be clearly stated on the label. However, allergens can also be present in food products through contamination, i.e. unintentional addition. It is important to exclude as far as possible the risk of unintentional or accidental contamination of allergens through the whole production line by establishing routines to eliminate the risks.

The Swedish Food Sector has established guidelines for the "Management and labelling of food products with reference to allergy and intolerance". These guidelines provide criteria for the labelling "May contain traces of...". This labelling should only be used when the criteria are fulfilled.

The Swedish Food Agency has developed a guide on how to calculate the risk of allergic reactions to certain concentrations of milk, egg, peanut, hazelnut, cashew nut, walnut, soy, celery, shrimp, fish or wheat. The guide is in English and can be reached below.

The labelling "free from"

Reviewed 2023-10-24