Tesco “may contain nuts” labelling fiasco

Last week there was a storm on social media, when Tesco said the following about “Also, may contain nuts” warnings on its Facebook page:

Tesco screen shot may contain nuts

(click here for the full thread, which stands at 219 comments at the time of typing).

This, understandably, sparked an outcry from those with nut allergies and those with nut allergic children. It would mean all Tesco own brand products were off limits for those avoiding products labelled “may contain nuts”. Would this approach be adopted by other manufacturers? And surely not ALL products could be at risk of cross contamination from nuts? This smacked of a indiscriminate blanket measure, which would surely fly in the face of the Food Standards Agency’s best practice guidance, which although voluntary, sets out that manufacturers should only apply a traces warning when “following a thorough risk assessment, there is a demonstrable and significant risk of allergen cross-contamination”.

Tesco initially explained that the reason for this change was “due to the labelling laws changing at the end of this year”:

Tesco screen shot may contain nuts 2

This line was repeated several times and only served to incite more outrage, given the new allergen laws coming into force on 13 December 2014 do not change the position on may contain labelling (they are and will continue to be voluntary).

Surely this couldn’t be true? Yet, as one commenter on the Facebook thread noted, it was all going on a little too long for an April Fool…

Then the Tesco back track began on Wednesday morning:

Tesco screen shot may contain nuts 3

This was followed by several more customer service responses, clarifying that a “may contain nuts” warning would only be used where there was a risk of cross contamination. More detail was provided by Danny on Wednesday afternoon:

Tesco screen shot may contain nuts 4

So, all’s well that ends well? Despite a customer service social media response reminiscent of Alpro, it seems the upshot for nut allergic families is that Tesco are shifting from the recipe/ingredients/factory format to the phrase “may contain nuts”, and that advisory labelling will continue to only be used where there is a cross contamination risk. This tallies with the advice they gave me back in January (see Tesco nut allergy advisory labelling is changing).

It therefore looked like the storm had blown over. However, it seems the furore has prompted customers to focus on just how many Tesco products are now labelled with a nut allergy warning. This is a trend which has been going on for some time… here are two of the more surprising (read: irritating) examples I’ve come across:

Tesco ham may contain nutsTesco orange juice may contain nuts label

Check out the @Tesco_R_Nuts twitter feed for more…

It makes you wonder whether Laura and Daniel and colleagues did simply make a PR gaffe, or whether they know something about the may contains policy the public as yet don’t…

At least we have a choice in where to shop. So if one supermarket decides to slap a “may contain nuts” warning on every product, unless they have a monopoly on a particular product market, we can vote with our feet and take our business elsewhere. I guess the problem would be if they all did it. But then, if it ever got to that stage, before we all begin growing our own and living the Good Life, fingers crossed the Food Standards Agency would be able to intervene.

Update (15 April 2014) – Please sign the Petition!

Allergy mum Clare Hussein is petitioning Tesco to stop using blanket ‘may contain nuts’ labels. She is:

“calling on Tesco to act now to change its labelling procedures to ensure they are true reflections of risk. They need transparent traceability for all ingredients so a may contain label is only used with real need.”

To see the full Petition, click here: http://change.org/tesconuts … please sign and share this link.

Update (29 April 2014) – Tesco confirms “may contain nuts” has been put on products it shouldn’t…

Fantastic news: Tesco have conceded to #TescoMayContainNuts campaigners that “Recently how we label has changed and in that changeover the “may contain” statement has been put on products it shouldn’t and caused a lot of confusion and anguish amongst our customers – for which we are very sorry.”.

See screen shot below for one example (taken from this Facebook thread):

Tesco screen shot may contain nuts 29.4.14

 

If you haven’t already done so, please do sign and share the Petition – let’s get unnecessary labels removed from every product on which they’ve been put “but shouldn’t” have been!

8 comments

  1. I try very hard not to shop in tesco anymore for that reason, waitrose and marks and spencer are just as bad.

    I do quite a lot of my shopping with ocado, who have a without nuts filter. I find I buy less own brand food now, surely they will start to see less sales.

  2. Why is it always nuts – and never (it seems) fish nor sesame?
    Penny @beingmrsc mentioned on Twitter today that those making ‘may contain’ statements are permitted to lump peanuts and tree nuts together as ‘nuts’ – but as she (I think) also pointed out, someone with a peanut allergy may not consider that peanuts are included in a ‘may contain nuts’ statement – therefore potentially risking their life.
    It’s a mess – but at least, it seems, the new legislation is flushing all this mess out – whether we can wade through it and clean it up is another matter …
    Good post, by the way – which is all I originally intended to say!
    A.

  3. Tesco have since stated that the wafer thing ham, orange juice and spoke and blackcurrant kids cartons are not at risk of cross contamination and that they will change the packaging. We are fighting for them to do a review of all items labelled like this. The FSA and Anaphylaxis Campaign all have meetings with Tesco about this so hoping for a positive outcome as we live in Tesco land here with alternative shops miles away!

  4. I understand that it’s incredibly difficult to feed a child that has food allergies. However I think it would be better to eat natural food and avoid all processed products as completely as possible.
    If you eat an apple you don’t have to worry that it may contain nuts.

    1. Hi Lewis. I concur entirely with Angela. As a parent to a child with multiple food allergies we prepare virtually everything from scratch – in fact, often children with food allergies eat healthier, fresher foods than their peers precisely because it is so hard to find safe products AND because we have to be so careful about ensuring they receive all the nutrients necessary. But we are talking about putting ‘may contain’ labels on everything from butternut squash to potatoes, tinned beans, yoghurts and more. We live in the real world, with jobs, other children and busy lives, and while it would be wonderful to be able to prepare every single thing from scratch, we – like you, I imagine – do buy staple foods such as bread, yoghurt, cream, pulses, porridge, cereals, fresh meat, fish… all of which very often are slapped with ‘may contain’ warnings for no discernible reason. We are not complaining about the occasional biscuit. We are talking about foods across the board.

  5. Lewis lay, the problem is that many products like apples have the disclaimer. Chicken often contains milk (as a plumping agent). Most allergy parents DO cook from scratch but when the ingredients say may contain what do we do?! Also, I challenge you to study 6 hours a day, work 4 hours a day (both Monday to Friday) and be a parent to a 4 and a 3 year old, one of which with multiple life threatening allergies who are only in nursery for 12 hours a week and still cook everything from scratch and ensure you have enough food and medication for the younger child whilst out and about. Good luck with that!

  6. Have you seen the labelling for Cadbury’s dairy milk. May contain nuts, but the ingredients list specifically lists a nut – Shea – the nut from a tree grown in Africa!
    Roundtree go 3 better they also include Sal, Illium and Cocum Guru, more nuts from Africa and India, in the Green bar.

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