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Allergy Today: Food allergen management consensus statement

In an international first, a Consensus Statement on Food Allergen Management has been developed in consultation with a wide range of stakeholders across Australia and New Zealand.iStock-694465136-952

The purpose of the statement is to advocate for improved food allergen management that includes robust risk management procedures that can quantify the possible presence of an allergen unintentionally in the food. This has now been published 
An International First: Stakeholder Consensus Statement for Food Allergen Management in Packaged Foods and Food Service for Australia and New Zealand – pub. ScienceDirect, April 2022

Discussions between key Australian and New Zealand allergy organisations, including Allergy New Zealand, began in 2014. The discussions identified that although food-allergic consumers rely on accurate information when purchasing food, many encounter “inadequate, confusing, and ambiguous allergen information” for both packaged and unpackaged foods. It was also noted that undeclared food allergens on packaged food, continued to be the leading cause of food recalls in both Australia and New Zealand.

While declarations for allergens intentionally in the food (such as an ingredient) are required and regulated, precautionary allergen labelling (PAL), such as “may contain allergen x”, are not. These relate to the potential presence of unintended allergens in a product through cross-contamination. Due to the lack of regulation, these are inconsistently worded in Australia and New Zealand, as well as many other countries.

Multiple forums were convened to facilitate discussions among consumers; food manufacturers; food retailers; regulatory bodies; researchers; and health professionals. It was agreed to develop a unified approach to improving
food allergen management.

Allergy New Zealand’s allergy advisor, Penny Jorgensen, who participated in the stakeholder forums and discussions, says it became obvious that allergen labelling on products and information provided by food services needed to improve, particularly in relation to PAL statements. She says it is interesting that many stakeholders, including health professionals, do not understand these are unregulated.

“Many assume a particular statement is safer than another, e.g. ‘may contain traces of x’ being less risk for someone than ‘may contain x’. Actually, there is no way of knowing,” says Penny.

She said health professionals may advise a consumer that ‘may contain’ statements are low risk, but because of the lack of regulation on this, there is no way to tell if there is any of the allergen in the food unintentionally or how much there could be.

However, it was also apparent that it is challenging for food manufacturers and food services to know how best to convey a potential risk of an unintended allergen being in the food.

“The work being done by the Allergen Bureau in developing VITAL (Voluntary Incidental Trace Allergen Labelling) as a risk management tool for the food industry, has provided a way forward that is now being looked at internationally,” Penny says.

“It is based on a quantitative assessment of how much of the allergen could be in the food. It not only intends to provide precautionary allergen labelling statements that are easier for consumers to understand, but also for the food manufacturer to minimise the risk of allergen cross-contamination in the first place. However, partly because of the lack of regulations, it is not easy at this time to identify products manufactured using VITAL or similar risk management procedures.”

It was agreed to establish a consensus statement among the broad range of stakeholders, for food allergen management in the food manufacturing and food service industries in Australia and New Zealand, with the view to improving food allergen management practices, food safety, and information for food-allergic consumers.

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For further information, visit the Australian National Allergy Strategy website:

Collaborations - National Allergy Strategy

Reference:
An International First: Stakeholder Consensus Statement for Food Allergen Management in Packaged Foods and Food Service for Australia and New Zealand – pub. ScienceDirect, April 2022

Allergy Today, May 2022