Clearer food labelling needed to prevent allergy deaths
CALLS are growing louder for clearer food allergen labelling in Australia, following two high-profile deaths in Europe linked to international sandwich chain Pret a Manger.
Fifteen-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse died in July 2016 after eating a Pret baguette containing sesame seeds, with no ingredient labelling on the product packaging.
Celia Marsh, 42, had a fatal allergic reaction after eating a flatbread she purchased from Pret in December last year that was labelled dairy-free but was found to contain yoghurt.
Current EU regulations say fresh food products prepared on site do not need individual allergen labelling, but signage listing allergens should be posted around the store.
After an inquest was held into Natasha’s death, Pret has announced it will implement full ingredient labelling on all its freshly made products as of next month.
Australia’s current labelling regulations are similar to the EU’s, and are being called out as confusing and needing urgent improvement.
Currently, potential food allergens must be declared if they’re ingredients, or components of food additives.
Cautionary allergen labelling — ‘may contain traces’ or ‘may be present’ — is voluntary, and there’s no standard for how it’s measured.
Allergy support charity Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia (AAA) says with the increase in food allergies in the general population more and more people are now living with the risk of a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Unclear or misleading labelling poses a serious danger.
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Australia, like other countries, has no criteria for use of ‘free-from’ labelling.
Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia believes that something labelled ‘free-from’ must be absolutely free from that ingredient.
Marketing a product as ‘free from’ means you are targeting people with an allergy.
When the product is found to contain the allergen a great number of people are at increased risk because the claim attracts those with very limited food choices.
The most common allergens are peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, eggs, milk, sesame, wheat and soy, AAA states, and one in ten babies now suffers from food allergies.
The authors of a University of Melbourne study published this month are also calling for food labelling regulations to be tightened after their study found some people with allergies had anaphylactic reactions to packaged foods.
Lead researcher and Melbourne School of Population and Global Health Allergy and Lung Health Unit postdoctoral research fellow Giovanni Zurzolo is concerned that an allergen-specific PAL was missing in more than half the anaphylaxis examples recorded in the study.
Five Australians have died from a severe allergic reaction after eating food that failed to specify allergens in the past eight years.
The federal government funds the National Allergy Strategy towards improving clinical care and raising community awareness of allergies.