Imported food found to contain unlabelled allergens

Matt Woodley

3/12/2019 2:31:03 PM

A new study that tested packaged food items bought from Asian grocery stores found 46% contained potentially deadly undeclared ingredients.

Food packaging label.
Potential allergens must be declared on Australian food labels.

The research, conducted by scientists at James Cook University (JCU), discovered undeclared allergens such as eggs, gluten, peanuts and milk, in 50 different imported food items – some in very high concentrations.
Professor Andreas Lopata, lead author and head of James Cook University’s Molecular Allergy Research Laboratory, said the findings are alarming.
‘Allergens not listed on the product labelling were detected in 46% of the products analysed, with 18% containing multiple undeclared allergens,’ he said.
‘Hospital admissions for food-induced acute allergic reactions rose by about 350% in Australia between 1997 and 2005, and increased a further 150% over the next seven years to 2012.
‘With the increasing number of food recalls and anaphylaxis recorded in Australia, it’s very important that further action continues in the area of food allergen labelling for the protection of allergic consumers here.’
Dr Joanne Simpson, Chair of the RACGP Specific Interests Allergy network, has previously told newsGP that GPs are at the frontline of managing allergies, and called for improved training and mentoring for practitioners.
‘Allergies are a really common presentation in general practice and a lot of GPs are dealing with it every day,’ she said.
‘There are GPs who actually have a quite a lot of experience in allergy and are actually dealing with the majority of allergy in certain areas. We’d like to see better training and upskilling for them as well.
‘All doctors don’t get a lot of allergy training in their current undergraduate training.’
According to Professor Lopata, Australian packaged food imports from ASEAN countries [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] increased from 18% to 23% between 2002 and 2012, while the food trade from Asia to Australia is increasing by about 2.5% annually.
The study found China was the source of products with the highest number of detectable, undeclared allergens, followed by Thailand and South Korea.
But the issue of appropriate allergen labelling is not restricted to imported food. A nine-month survey conducted last year reported 6.7% of respondents had had an anaphylactic reaction to a packaged food where the suspected allergen was not a listed ingredient.
According to the JCU researchers, most food recalls in Australia are now due to undeclared allergens.
Potential allergens must be declared on Australian food labels when they are present as ingredients or as components of food additives or processing aids. But the Precautionary Allergen Label (PAL) system is voluntary, leading to calls for it to be regulated and standardised.
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