Pea protein and food allergy labelling

The use of pea protein in food and drink manufacturing has increased in recent years as manufacturers respond to consumer interest in plant-based and high-protein foods and sustainable diets. Pea-based ingredients including: pea flour, pea protein concentrate, and pea protein isolate may now be found in processed foods such as meat products (e.g. sausages, sliced meat products, meatballs) and plant-based meat alternatives, milk and dairy alternatives, as well as soups, sauces, cereals, baking mixes, baked goods and gluten free foods. 

Peas belong to the legume family, which also includes peanuts, soya, chickpeas, lentils, beans, lupin and fenugreek. Outside of the top food allergies (i.e., milk, egg, wheat, soy, peanut, tree nuts, fish, shellfish), allergies to other legumes including peas are thought to be the next most common allergy. People are usually not allergic to all legumes, but allergy to more than one legume often occurs. Allergy to peanut and soya are more common than other legume allergies and both are already included in the 14-regulated allergens list. This means that if they are used as an ingredient in food, it must be declared under UK food law.  On pre-packed food and drink labels, these allergens must be emphasised; typically they are highlighted in bold on ingredients lists. Other legumes including peas are not part of the 14-regulated allergenic ingredients and do not need to be emphasised on labels (though they must be declared if they are intended ingredients).

Because allergic reactions are usually triggered by proteins, foods containing concentrated protein sources such as pea protein are likely to trigger more severe reactions if accidentally consumed by people with an allergy to that food. Therefore, pea protein is a particular concern for people with an allergy to peas. As pea protein is increasingly being used as an ingredient in a range of foods, including in foods where it may be unexpected by consumers, it would benefit from being emphasised on food labels to protect allergic consumers. In addition, as consumer exposure to pea protein increases, an increase in pea allergy may be anticipated and so monitoring for increasing prevalence of pea allergy is important, particularly in people with allergies to other legumes such as peanut. Consumers should report any unexpected reactions to food manufacturers and healthcare professionals.

This food safety issue needs to be addressed by the Foods Standards Agency.