Packaged foods are putting people at risk of anaphylaxis

Research News
Published: 
Wednesday, January 24, 2018 - 9:15am
The risk of life-threatening anaphylaxis attacks from unlisted allergen trigger ingredients in pre-packaged food is worryingly common.

New research by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI), published in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, examined reports of anaphylaxis in Australasia from consumption of packaged food products with or without precautionary allergen labelling (PAL), where the known allergen triggers were not a listed ingredient.

Members of the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy were invited to complete a questionnaire. Participants were asked to complete a survey reporting whether they have had seen any patients over the past three months reporting anaphylaxis following ingestion of a packaged food where the suspected food allergen was not a listed ingredient.

The questionnaire uncovered the following results:

  • There were 14 reports of anaphylaxis to packaged foods (where the suspected allergen was not a listed ingredient)
  • Of those reactions 50 percent were reported from foods which did not have a PAL statement

Permissive labelling is the term that’s been adopted by food allergy experts that would highlight safe and suitable foods for allergy-affected individuals and not just for foods which should be avoided. However current PAL practices do not assist consumers in selecting foods which are safe for consumption.

The study’s lead author, Dr Giovanni Zurzolo, Postdoctoral Fellow from MCRI and Victoria University pointed out that PAL labelling is currently voluntary - with some but not all packaged foods labelled with a variety of advisory warnings.

“Therefore, there is no effective way to currently determine whether or not an unlabelled product (foods without PAL) is safe for consumption by the food allergic community.”

’May contain traces‘ statements have been designed by the food industry to assist consumers with selecting foods safe for consumption. PAL would help consumers better assess if products are safe for consumption.

Senior author Professor Katie Allen said the findings of this study show that allergy consumers are taking significant risks in eating pre-packaged food.

“Our study showed that anaphylaxis to undeclared allergens is not rare and it did not appear to depend on whether the product was labelled with precautionary advice.”

“Current PAL practices do not assist consumers in selecting foods which are safe for consumption.
Improvements in the regulation of food labelling are required to give consumers the right information to help them to make, safe choices", Professor Allen said.

“Everyone deserves the right to eat food safely.”

Emilia's story
Helen Czech’s 15 year old daughter, Emilia has experienced several anaphylactic attacks through her life. Her family first discovered that Emilia was allergic to wheat when she ate a pizza crust at the tender age of five months.  

Helen said that two hours after eating the pizza crust, Emi’s eye blew up and she became wheezy.

“We took her straight to the doctor who gave her two lots of adrenaline and then sent her in an ambulance to hospital. It was a very scary experience.”

The family have since discovered that Emi is allergic to wheat, eggs and peanut. She carries an Epipen with her at all times and they are extremely careful about what she eats, which is why they were so surprised when eighteen months ago she reacted to a packet of rice biscuits that she had as a part of her school lunch.

“There were no ingredients listed on the label that Emi is allergic to, so we were very surprised that she had a reaction. It is concerning that even if you read the label carefully and try to do everything right that your child could still be at risk,” Helen said. 

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