Packaged products may contain more than the label states, including allergens

January 24, 2018 by Katie Allen, The Conversation
‘May contain traces of nuts’ labels aren’t always present in foods that could be cross contaminated. Credit: www.shutterstock.com

Our new study has found packaged foods can contain allergens even when there is no listed ingredient or even warning on the label (such as "may contain traces of nuts").

Paediatricians, allergy/immunology specialists, nurses and dietitians from the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy reported there were 14 cases of anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction causing skin rash, vomiting, difficulty breathing or even death) to packaged foods over a nine-month period. Of those reactions, 50% were reported from foods that didn't have a warning statement.

The reports of anaphylactic episodes to products both with and without a warning is of concern, as it suggests there is no reliable labelling system that can inform people with allergies if their choice is a safe one.

Modern manufacturing processes

Modern manufacturing processes often share facilities and equipment for the processing of different foods, meaning there's a risk of cross-contamination.

At the point of consumption, food products may have become cross-contaminated with residues of allergens due to shared farming practices, harvesting equipment, storage facilities, transportation vehicles, processing facilities and processing equipment.

This cross-contamination can leave an allergic patient vulnerable to any of the symptoms that can occur in a patient exposed to hidden allergens, ranging from hives to life-threatening anaphylaxis.

Allergens can contaminate other foods where manufacturing processes are shared, but it’s not always on the label. Credit: www.shutterstock.com

Consumers with food allergy are often advised to avoid products with precautionary statements, even though the exact risks are unknown.

Advice to parents

A more scientific approach to cross-contamination of foods has been developed in Australia, where manufacturers undergo a more intensive investigation into the possible presence of allergens in foods prior to their release to consumers.

Foods, and the environments they're manufactured in, are tested for possible sources of such as egg and peanut. If the level of cross-contamination is equal to or above a certain level that's considered unsafe, a statement of "may be present" is used. If it's below this level, no precautionary labelling is required.

Some international manufacturers have now implemented the use of this . But a major limitation of this process is there's nothing on the package to say these tests have been done.

This means allergic people have no way of telling which packaged foods are truly safe to eat.

Our results add significant concern to this dilemma. Those foods without a label may be safe because they have been risk assessed or they may be very unsafe because they have not been risk assessed at all.

Governments and regulatory bodies need to intervene to help resolve this dilemma. Food allergic consumers deserve to feel safe about eating packaged foods and they need to have clear guidelines. Manufacturers should clearly state not just which foods should be avoided, but which have been tested and which are safe to eat.

Explore further: Confusing food labels place consumers with food allergy at risk

Related Stories

Confusing food labels place consumers with food allergy at risk

November 1, 2016
A study found that consumers with food allergy concerns often misunderstand food labels about allergens that say "may contain" or "manufactured on shared equipment." While they should avoid such products to prevent what could ...

Science panel urges rewrite of food allergy warning labels

November 30, 2016
"Made in the same factory as peanuts." ''May contain traces of tree nuts." A new report says the hodgepodge of warnings that a food might accidentally contain a troublesome ingredient is confusing to people with food allergies, ...

40 percent of adolescents with food allergies experience frequent anaphylactic episodes

November 28, 2017
A new study by researchers from the Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI) has shown that 40 percent of Australian adolescents with food allergies are experiencing frequent allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis.

Confused parents ignore precautionary food allergy labels

June 17, 2013
Parents of children with a history of the potentially life-threatening allergic reaction anaphylaxis often ignore precautionary labels on foods because they find them unhelpful and confusing, research from the Murdoch Children's ...

Study shows oral food challenges are safe for diagnosing food allergies

September 7, 2017
The best way to find out if someone has a food allergy is through an oral food challenge (OFC) where the person is given a very small dose of the food by mouth under the supervision of a board-certified allergist to test ...

Immunological cross-reactions may increase food allergies

September 1, 2015
(HealthDay)—Food allergy can be caused by immunological cross-reactions to common inhalant allergens, with diverse patterns of allergic reactions to foods observed, according to a position paper published in the September ...

Recommended for you

Gene variant found in brain complicit in MS onset

December 18, 2018
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease affecting the function of the central nervous system. Up to now, most of the 230 genetic variants associated with the disease have been linked to changes in immune cells. However, ...

Gut microbiome regulates the intestinal immune system, researchers find

December 18, 2018
Scientist have long known that bacteria in the intestines, also known as the microbiome, perform a variety of useful functions for their hosts, such as breaking down dietary fiber in the digestive process and making vitamins ...

How a single faulty gene can lead to lupus

December 18, 2018
A research team at the Academy of Immunology and Microbiology, within the Institute for Basic Science (IBS) & Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) in South Korea has discovered the role of a key gene involved ...

Metal chemotherapy drugs boost the impact of immunotherapy in cancer

December 18, 2018
Due to their powerful tumour-killing effect, metal-based chemotherapies are frequently used in cancer treatment. However, it was hitherto assumed that they damaged the immune system, because of their cytotoxic (cell-damaging) ...

Clues to chronic fatigue syndrome in overactive immune response

December 18, 2018
New research from King's College London finds that an exaggerated immune response can trigger long-lasting fatigue, potentially explaining how chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) begins. The study is the most in-depth biological ...

Protein police keep the immune system in check

December 17, 2018
Our immune systems defend our bodies against dangerous invaders and help clean up when damage is done. But if our bold protectors are left unsupervised, they sometimes do their jobs too well and end up harming healthy tissues. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.