As the UK’s supply of sunflower oil continues to be severely impacted by the conflict in Ukraine, further advice is being issued by food standards bodies to consumers and retailers about oil substitutions and product labelling. 

Food Standards Scotland (FSS) and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) are 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 soyabean oil are being used in some products without changes to the label being made.

Advice has already been issued to consumers around the use of refined rapeseed oil due to the impact of the conflict in Ukraine on product availability.

Risk assessment results

Geoff Ogle, chief executive of the FSS, commented: “Consumer safety is our absolute priority. As such, we have jointly carried out a further, comprehensive risk assessment on an additional three refined oils that are being proposed as alternative substitutions for sunflower oil, supplies of which are being restricted by the conflict in Ukraine.

“The risk assessment has shown that the immediate risk to those with a food allergy is very low or negligible, reactions to these fully refined oils are very rare and, if they do occur, are mild.”

Ogle added that FSS and FSA were working closely with closely with industry to raise awareness among consumers of any potential changes to ingredients and are encouraging industry to consider using “the healthier and more sustainable oils” from the recommended list if substituting their ingredients.

He said: “Steps are also being taken to ensure that labelling is updated to reflect any changes to ingredients, and potential allergens, so that consumers have confidence in the products they are buying. If consumers are unsure of the content of any product or have concerns about substitution, they should contact the manufacturer/brand for more information.”

FSS said that 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 by the industry bodies. Where substitute oils are used, FSS and the FSA expect 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.