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Allergy Today: Global Food Allergen Management Standards Set

Allergy consumer organisations around the world are celebrating the adoption of a ‘Code of Practice on food allergen management for food businesses’, by the world body Codex Alimentarius. This is the food standards-setting body of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).iStock-693280644-656

Food allergies are an increasing food safety issue globally, including in New Zealand. It is estimated two to three per cent of adults, and five per cent of children, suffer from food allergies. Hospital admissions for food-triggered anaphylaxis here have increased 300 per cent in recent decades.

At the same time, allergen-related food recalls have been increasing and in New Zealand are responsible for about half of all food recalls.  

Food safety regulations developed under New Zealand’s 2014 Food Act include requirements for food allergen management. However, given the global nature of food production and manufacturing, it is crucial to have internationally-developed guidance on best practices to ensure a global understanding of how to manage food allergens.

Preventing allergen cross-contact

A key objective of the Code of Practice is to prevent allergen cross-contact, where an allergen may unintentionally be transferred from one product to another. Many manufacturers use “Precautionary Allergen Labelling” (PAL), including statements such as “may contain X” on the label to advise consumers this might have occurred. Unfortunately, this practice significantly limits choices for food-allergic individuals.   

Food allergen management also involves allergen labelling. Providing guidance on allergen management throughout the production process and the whole supply chain, including retail and food services, is intended to reduce risk for consumers with food allergy by:

  • Preventing or minimising the potential for undeclared allergens being present in a food due to errors arising in the supply chain.
  • Ensuring the correct allergen label is applied to pre-packaged foods.
  • Ensuring that accurate information can be provided to consumers at point of sale when the food is not pre-packaged.

Development of the Code has been led by the Codex Committee on Food Hygiene, as allergen management practices are seen as an integral part of good food hygiene practice. There is provision for the Code to incorporate ongoing work on allergen labelling by the Codex Committee on Food Labelling (CCFL).

New Zealand has been a member of Codex since its formation in 1963. The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is New Zealand’s lead agency for working with Codex and is responsible for managing New Zealand's input and participation. Allergy New Zealand contributes to food-allergen related submissions to Codex through MPI.

You can read the 21-page Code of Practice on Food Allergen Management for Food Business Operators here.

Allergy Today, December 2020