Council chiefs in Bath (UK) have called for food labelling to be tightened up after finding traces of nuts in chocolate sold in the area.

All 35 chocolate products tested for Bath and North East Somerset Council contained the warning “may contain nuts”.

But the council is backing a call by the Food Standards Agency for allergy warnings on packaging to be reassessed amid confusion over the different phrases used by manufacturers.

Of the tested products, six (17 per cent) had traces of nuts - with all of them containing hazelnuts, one peanut traces and two elements of almonds.

The council says its research echoes the concerns raised by the FSA, which found that “may contain” warning messages were leading to complacency and confusion amongst consumers, particularly young adults such as students about to start independent living for the first time.

Council cabinet member Councillor David Dixon (Lib Dem, Oldfield) said: “Until there is a consistent and reliable approach to allergy warnings, consumers – particularly those in high risk groups – need to be aware of the potential risks they face by not only ignoring notices but also failing to read the ingredients lists. We hope that by raising awareness of the current broad brush approach to food allergy labelling, we can help local families to look out for their children’s safety.

“Consumers should also be aware of the voluntary nature of such warning labels as there is no legal obligation for food manufacturers to include them on packaging – so the lack of a warning does not necessarily guarantee that a product is ‘nut-free’.”

The term “may contain nuts” is normally used when other products containing nuts are made on the same production lines, with cleaning not always able to remove all cross-contamination.

The council has been working closely with the national charity the Anaphylaxis Campaign, which offers support and advice to nut allergy sufferers – including the one child in every 50 who is allergic to nuts.

Spokeswoman Moira Austin said: “The charity supports and welcomes the highlighting of the important issues raised in the council’s report. Teenagers and young adults are particularly at risk of severe and fatal reactions and studies suggest that they are more likely to take risks, especially with regards to ignoring “may contain nuts” warnings on products and with failing to carry their adrenaline injectors.”

The full report is at www.bathnes.gov.uk/foodsafety.

For information and advice on nut allergies, contact the Anaphylaxis Campaign on 01252 546100, email info@anaphylaxis.org.uk or visit www.anaphylaxis.org.uk.