Some foods and food components can cause severe allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis. Unfortunately, it is not always easy to determine what is in the foods we eat. When it comes to food and allergy-awareness, there is no room for uncertainty.
In Australia, all food labels must conform to the Australian New Zealand Food Standards Code. This code states that a food label must declare the presence of peanut, tree nuts, egg, milk, fish, shellfish, wheat, soy and sesame (the nine most common causes of food allergy), no matter how small the amount in the food may be. Sources of gluten, and sulphite preservatives in excess of 10mg/kg, need also be declared (FSANZ, 2015). This code applies to both pre-packaged foods and fresh food from delicatessens. If a label is not adhered to a product, it is mandatory the ingredients within the food are either displayed or easily accessible to consumers.
Reading food labels is not always straight forward, as sometimes allergens are referred to using other terms. For example, “casein” is a milk-derived protein. Should someone who is allergic to milk unknowingly consume a product containing casein, they could have an allergic reaction. It is therefore important people with food allergies become educated about alternative names for foods and food components, to minimise the risk they choose products that contain offending allergens. Seeking professional advice from a dietitian is recommended.
Although imported foods must comply with Australian food labelling legislation, imported goods should always be purchased with caution. Labelling requirements in some countries are not as stringent as in Australia. Therefore there is not only risk the labels on imported foods could be incorrectly translated, but risk the foods may have been incorrectly labelled to begin with.
Food allergy sufferers need also be aware that discrepancies have been identified on labels of different sizes of the same product, that “free from” is not a guarantee, and that wines labelled with a vintage prior to 2002 were not required to abide by the current Food Standards Code.
At the Australian Allergy Centre food allergy testing is available to assist in the diagnosis and management of food allergies. Only with an accurate diagnosis can an individualised plan be developed, to minimise the impact of allergies and maximise quality of life.
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