FSANZ stresses importance of accurate allergen labelling

Picture: iStock/Piotr_malczyk

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has launched a month-long campaign to remind businesses about getting allergen labelling right and the consequences of mistakes.

It coincides with Australia’s Food Allergy Week (May 14‒20). Supporters include Nestlé, Nutricia Australia - a division of Danone, Arnott’s and Coles.

Mark Booth, FSANZ CEO, said businesses need to know the mandatory allergen labelling requirements in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code.

Vital businesses meet requirements

“Correct allergen labelling can mean the difference between life and death for people with food allergies so it is vital that food businesses meet labelling requirements,” he said.

Australia’s allergy list

Peanut, tree nuts (e.g. pecan and hazelnut), cow’s milk, egg, fish, shellfish (e.g. prawns, lobster), sesame, soy and gluten-containing cereals

“There are currently nine foods which must be declared whenever they are present as ingredients or as components of food additives or processing aids. Lupins are expected to be added to the list this month.

“If the food is not in a package or is not required to have a label (for example, food prepared at and sold from a takeaway shop), this information must either be displayed in connection with the food or provided to the purchaser if requested.”

‘May contain’ or ‘may be present’ statements are and made by manufacturers and are not regulated by the Food Standards Code.

Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia and Allergy New Zealand raise awareness about food allergies.

Food allergy affects one in 10 infants and about two in 100 adults in Australia. There are more than 170 foods known to have triggered severe allergic reactions.

Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia (A&AA) estimates there are more than 650,000 Australians with a diagnosed food allergy.

Maria Said, A&AA CEO, said the week is about helping keep those with food allergy safe by making people aware.

“Allergic reactions to food can rapidly become life threatening, so education on daily management, prevention of a reaction and emergency treatment is crucial. It is essential for Australians to know the signs and symptoms of when a food allergy occurs.”

Food allergy affects up to 10% of infants in New Zealand, with milk, eggs and peanuts the main items involved.

‘Very worrying’ allergen audit findings

Meanwhile, an audit by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) found an ‘unacceptable’ level of non-compliance by businesses when it comes to providing accurate written information on 14 specified allergens in non-prepacked food.

Three in every 100 people in Ireland have a food allergy.

Allergens in EU

Celery, Cereals containing gluten, Crustaceans, Eggs, Fish, Lupin, Milk, Molluscs, Mustard, Nuts, Peanuts, Sesame seeds, Soya, Sulphur dioxide (sulphites)

A representative sample of 50 food service businesses including cafés, hotels, public houses, restaurants and takeaways were audited - all audits were unannounced.

Almost one third (32%) of businesses did not provide any written allergen information and of those that did, just 24% provided accurate information.

FSAI said 26 had either left out a foodstuff or incorrectly recorded the allergen content.

Many businesses that did not provide written allergen information said they did not realise it must be made available without a consumer having to ask for it, added the agency.

Some businesses had a lack of awareness about the 14 allergens that must be declared.

With the Food Information for Consumers Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011 allergen labelling rules changed in December 2014.

FSAI said some businesses did not understand providing written allergen information to consumers was an on-going process rather than just a once-off project.

Dr Pamela Byrne, chief executive of FSAI, called the findings ‘very worrying’ as they indicate a lack of awareness or willingness by businesses to prioritise safety of people with food allergies two years after the law came into effect.

“Whether consumers are eating out, getting takeaways or having food delivered to their home or workplace, food businesses have a legal obligation to provide accurate food allergen information in writing,” she said. 

“The FSAI and enforcement officials have provided a significant level of resources and support to assist food businesses to understand the food allergens they work with on a daily basis and how they can meet their legal obligations.”

FSAI unveiled an eight-week information campaign as a result highlighting potential consequences that missing or inaccurate allergen information can have on an individual’s health.

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