Allergy Alert – Rapeseed oil

Advice for consumers that some food products labelled as containing sunflower oil may instead contain refined rapeseed oil due to the impact of the conflict in Ukraine on product availability.

Update issued on Friday 29th April 2022.

FSA provides consumer guidance as more fully refined oils may be used as ingredient substitutions 

As the UK’s supply of sunflower oil continues to be severely impacted by the conflict in Ukraine, further information is being issued to consumers and retailers about oil substitutions and product labelling.   The Food Standards Agency is advising consumers that some food products may now contain other refined or fully refined food grade vegetable oils, despite being labelled as containing sunflower oil.

This update provides advice to consumers that fully refined palm oil, fully refined coconut oil and fully refined soybean oil are being used in some products without changes to the label being made. We have already issued advice to consumers around the use of refined rapeseed oil due to the impact of the conflict in Ukraine on product availability.

It is an absolute priority for us that food is safe, and what it says it is. If industry decisions are made around the substitutions of these oils, we expect accurate labels to be prepared and printed as soon as possible so that consumers can be confident in the food they buy. Any inaccuracies in labelling must only be temporary. We are working closely with industry to raise awareness among consumers of any potential changes to ingredients.

We have carried out a rapid risk assessment on three fully refined oils that the food industry is proposing to use in a variety of products to replace sunflower oil, supplies of which are being restricted by the war in Ukraine. The risk assessment focuses on people with a food allergy, and the immediate food risk from fully refined palm oil and fully refined coconut oil is very low and for fully refined soybean oil it is negligible, which means that allergic reactions to these fully refined vegetable oils are very rare and – if they do occur – are mild.

We encourage industry to consider using the healthier and more sustainable oils from this list if substituting their ingredients. Consumers should contact the manufacturer or brand for more information if they are unsure of the content of any product or have concerns about substitution, Emily Miles, Chief Executive of the Food Standards Agency.

Guidance has been issued to local authorities on the factors they may wish to take into consideration to assist in making proportionate enforcement decisions on a case-by-case basis and bearing in mind the wider consumer interests.

The rapid allergen risk assessment for these oils has been published as part of our commitment to making public the science and evidence underpinning our advice and guidance.

Where substitute oils are used, the FSA expects businesses to inform consumers about any related product change, whether that product is purchased in store or online, using, for example, point of sale notices and information on their websites.

How the FSA informs decision making on sunflower oil substitutions 

When considering alternative oils which can be used as a replacement for sunflower oil in these extraordinary circumstances, the FSA has applied a number of tests to determine if a proportionate enforcement approach should be taken to labelling inaccuracies arising from temporary substitution of ingredients.

These provisional tests have been developed to support decision making going forward around interim measures to support the food supply chain and these tests will help ensure food is safe, consumer interests are protected and, the food supply chain is not disrupted.

The FSA Board is aware of the situation and will be keeping it under review, including industry’s progress back to compliance.

Initial Statement: Thursday 24th March 2022

The Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland are today advising consumers that some food products labelled as containing sunflower oil may instead contain refined rapeseed oil. This is happening to maintain the supply of certain food products containing ingredients that have become increasingly difficult to source because of the conflict in Ukraine.

The majority of the UK’s sunflower oil comes from Ukraine and food businesses here are reporting that supplies of sunflower oil are likely to run out in a few weeks with some businesses already experiencing severe difficulties.

We will provide any further updates as they become available from the FSA. In the meantime call our Helpline on 01322 619898 if you need further advice.

This has led to some food manufacturers urgently replacing sunflower oil with refined rapeseed oil before being able to make the change on the label. We are therefore advising that food products labelled as containing sunflower oil may instead have been produced using refined rapeseed oil and consumers should look out for additional information being provided by retailers and manufacturers  to stay informed.

FSA and FSS have been working hard to understand the recent pressures on our food supply chain and the interim measures needed to make sure certain foods – like crisps, breaded fish, frozen vegetables and chips – remain on sale here. We have looked at the immediate food safety risk of substituting sunflower oil with refined rapeseed oil – particularly to people with a food allergy – and it is very low. We know allergic reactions to rapeseed oil are very rare and – if they do occur – are mild. Retaining consumer trust remains an absolute priority for both organisations and we are urgently working with the food industry and other partners to ensure labels on food where sunflower oil has been replaced by refined rapeseed oil are made accurate as soon as possible. – Emily Miles, FSA Chief Executive 

The FSA and FSS are working across government and the food industry to understand the challenges and ensure food supply is maintained in a way that is safe and in the interests of consumers.

The war in Ukraine has disrupted supplies of sunflower oil to the UK. Where sunflower oil exists as an ingredient in products, retailers will be substituting it with other safe oils, such as rapeseed oil. Retailers are looking to change product labels as soon as possible; where sunflower oil is a key ingredient, such as crisps, retailers will imprint information on substitute oil onto existing labels. Retailers’ customer services will be answering questions on all their own brand products. – Andrea Martinez-Inchausti, Deputy Director of Food at the British Retail Consortium

The FSA and FSS have published the rapid risk assessment into the substitution of sunflower oil with refined rapeseed oil as part of our commitment to making public the science and evidence underpinning our advice and guidance.