Allergen labelling has become a crucial safety tool for people living with food allergies around the globe. Labelling of specific allergens on pre-packaged food, and/or information provided on request where a label is not required, is mandatory in many countries including New Zealand. However, the accuracy of these declarations on food for sale also depends on careful allergen management throughout the production process.
New Zealand Food Safety, part of the Ministry for Primary Industries, is responsible for regulations on allergen management and labelling of food. Their Food Compliance Service often picks up issues when a complaint is received about a potential undeclared allergen, as discussed in this Case Study.
Allergy New Zealand also fields many requests for information or clarification about allergen labelling, and/or support, such as when someone has had an unexpected reaction to a food product. Following these up with the NZ Food Safety Compliance team has led to a collaborative approach. We want to ensure public safety by getting unsafe food off the shelves as soon as possible, while letting those at risk know about the product concerned. It is also important to learn from the investigation about what went wrong and to share this with the food sector to improve safety overall.
In the process, we have also identified resources and activities to help improve and support consumers with food allergy. The Food Compliance Service and Allergy NZ have recently produced a pamphlet for consumers on when and how to report a product with a potentially undeclared allergen.
At Allergy New Zealand’s suggestion, MPI has also enabled food-allergic consumers to subscribe directly to a food allergen recall notification service (rather than to receive all food recall notices). Subscribers are emailed directly the information they need to know about food recalls for undeclared allergens*. To access this information, go to Subscribe to MPI | MPI | NZ Government, enter your name and email address, then tick Email Update Topics/Food recalls – allergies.
Other work is being planned for 2021, some of which may be developed in relation to the implementation of PEAL (Plain English Allergen Labelling), which you can read about in the February 2021 issue of Allergy Today.
Allergy New Zealand’s Allergy Advisor, Penny Jorgensen, and Melinda Sando, National Manager for NZ Food Safety’s Food Compliance Services, also teamed up in December 2020 to present to Auckland Council’s Environmental Health Officers. They are scheduled to present to the NZ Institute of Environment Health’s virtual conference in March.
*Allergens in food: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, sesame seeds, fish, shellfish (crustacea and molluscs), soy, lupin and cereals (gluten) and sulphites.