Tesco has backed down on a new policy which had seen it add nut allergy warnings to a range of products which left allergy sufferers baffled. They had claimed the new labels were needed in order comply with EU law, but after a customer backlash they have backed down.
So are there really nuts in the own-brand orange juice, ham and baked beans?
WarningsAccording to the Daily Mail, earlier this year Tesco added warnings to a number of products which had previously been considered safe for allergy sufferers. These included apple and orange juice, baked beans, ham and tonic water.
A report in The Grocer said that the supermarket had originally defended the move as an EU legal requirement - and said the labels were only on products where there was a genuine risk of nut contamination.
At the beginning of last month, Tesco said on its Facebook page that the new rules will require companies to emphasise things in the list of ingredients where they are known allergens, but then they were not allowed to repeat this information elsewhere on the label. This meant they had to remove the information that was previously listed in a separate allergen advice box and instead they added the statement 'Also, may contain nuts'.
BacklashHowever, customers were not impressed - especially the parents of children with nut allergies, who were suddenly unable to feed them Tesco own-brand ham or baked beans. Clare Hussein, a customer from Portsmouth, set up a petition calling on Tesco to revisit their labelling.
She said: "We recognise there will be risk in some foods, such as chocolate and biscuits. However, when you attempt a weekly shop for your family and find that everything from baked beans to pizza, butternut squash, potatoes, fruit juice and more are suddenly labelled as being potentially unsafe it is very disruptive and leaves you with extremely limited options for feeding your family."
She added: "I am 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. The guidance is to prevent blanket statements - yet this appears to be the stance Tesco is taking."
So far the petition has been signed by more than 17,500 people, and many have added their comments. They included a number from people who had stopped shopping at Tesco because it restricted them too much, those who felt that the approach put children at more risk because parents were left guessing, and those who felt that inaccuracy was inexcusable when it came to a potentially lethal allergy.
U-turnThis week Tesco apologised in another Facebook statement. It said that it was Tesco policy only to display labels where there was a genuine risk of contamination, but added that it was asking its suppliers to review their policies. It added: "The risk assessments for products with a 'may contain' statement are being reviewed and where following that review we can't demonstrate there is a significant risk of cross contamination we will remove the 'may contain; statement from the label."
Additionally it said: "We will also work to continue to work with suppliers to ensure they have good manufacturing practices in place to reduce the risk of cross contamination - if we can remove the risk, we will remove the 'may contain'."