July 2013 News Round Up

In this July 2013 news round up we bring you information from a study in which they examined the behaviour and perception of parents of food-allergic children in relation to precautionary allergen labelling, new research filling the gap in irish data.

Behaviour relating to food labels among parents of food-allergic children

Professor Katie Allen and her colleagues have published findings from another study in which they examined the behaviour and perception of parents of food-allergic children in relation to precautionary allergen labelling. They also sought to understand consumers’ perception of the “may be present” statement that is recommended to be used in conjunction with the Allergen Bureau VITAL™ system when precautionary labelling is required. The study was recently published in the Medical Journal of Australia with free access.

The results were based on questionnaire responses from the parents of 246 children who had been diagnosed with food allergy and who attended the Department of Allergy at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne between August and October in 2011. Avoidance of foods with precautionary labels differed depending on the wording of the precautionary statement, with 65% ignoring the statement “made in the same factory” compared with 22% who ignored the statement “may be present”. There was no evidence of differences between parents of children with and without a past history of anaphylaxis in their reading of food labels, although parents of children with a history of anaphylaxis were more likely to remove from the house any food products containing the allergen.

Close to 80% of parents whose children had a history of anaphylaxis thought precautionary labels were not useful. With more than half of all packaged processed foods in Australian supermarkets carrying precautionary labelling for food allergens, results of this study suggest consumers may no longer be taking the level of caution intended by the manufacturer.

The authors suggest that policies that promote the use of fewer precautionary statements or more effective labelling strategies may lead to less consumer complacency.

Reference: Zurzolo et al. 2013 Medical Journal of Australia. Vol. 198 pp. 621–623 DOI: 10.5694/mja12.11669

New Allergen Bureau membership category for individuals

The Allergen Bureau is excited to announce the introduction of an Individual Membership option. For an annual subscription of just $220^, individuals joining the Allergen Bureau can now enjoy some of the benefits of Full and Associate Members, including:

  • 25% discount on Allergen Bureau Conferences and Workshops
  • 10% discount on Allergen Bureau endorsed VITAL™ training
  • Priority access to the Allergen Bureau phone and email information service
  • Priority access (2 weeks ahead of general distribution) to local and global breaking news and information delivered to your computer in the monthly Allergen Bureau eNews
  • Input to coordinated industry representations regarding regulatory and policy issues
  • Able to participate in Allergen Bureau working groups

Join the Allergen Bureau Now! 

Individual Membership of the Allergen Bureau is open to:

  • Individuals within NGO’s, Government Departments, and Trade Associations
  • Sole operators of Consultancies
  • Individuals in SME’s (at Allergen Bureau Management discretion)

^ Associate Member D (Individual) investment is an annual subscription fee renewable on 1 April; Membership prices include 10% GST for Australian entities

Changes to some Allergen Bureau services

The Allergen Bureau has introduced some changes to the services we offer – particularly with regard to delivery of our eNews and our phone and email information service.

Our ever popular eNews is currently delivered free to over 5,000 email recipients. Starting from the next edition of the eNews (August 2013), Allergen Bureau Members, including our new Individual Member category, will receive priority access to the eNews delivered to their computers 2 weeks ahead of general distribution.

The Allergen Bureau provides it Members with a free phone and email information and technical support service to our Members providing rapid responses concerning food allergen risks in food ingredients and manufactured foods in Australia and New Zealand. Member enquiries are acknowledged within 2 working days and considered responses given within 5 working days. However, enquiries from non-members have also generally been responded to within the same time frame.

Commencing as of 1 July 2013, non-members will only be able to access the Allergen Bureau phone and email information service as a priority for one enquiry. Subsequent enquiries and requests for assistance by non-members will be considered on a case-by-case basis, as time and resources allow. What better reason to join the Allergen Bureau .

We would also like you to note that we have changed our phone number. The new Allergen Bureau phone number is 0437 918 959 (Australia) and + 61 437 918 959 (International).

“May contain” may rarely contain detectable allergen

A team of researchers, including Murdoch Children’s Professor Katie Allen and FAARP’s Professor Steve Taylor (both members of the VITAL™ Scientific Expert Panel), have written to the editor of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology to highlight the results of their survey which assessed food products with precautionary labelling.

The group undertook an initial survey in 2008, and repeated the same survey in 2011 to examine changes in the prevalence of precautionary labelling over a 3-year period. Their results showed that overall, 65% of products contained one or more precautionary statements to any of the nine most common food allergens.

The study included 128 “private label” processed foods with precautionary statements from three different supermarket chains in Australia: Woolworths; Coles; and Aldi. The first two supermarket chains represent a commercial duopoly that provides 80% of Australian supermarket products. Aldi was also included as it has recently entered the Australian market from Europe and may therefore be reflective of European manufacturing procedures.

In the five categories of high-risk foods, namely: chocolates; breakfast cereals; muesli bars; savoury biscuits; and sweet biscuits – 97% of products were found to carry some form of precautionary statements. The Allergen Bureau VITAL™ “may be present” label was found on 53% and “may contain” was found on 44%; 3% of the products carried no precautionary statement.

ELISA tests (Neogen Veratox kits) were carried out on the samples. Only nine products (7%) with precautionary labelling had detectable levels of peanut. Of all other samples that had precautionary labelling for hazelnut, milk, egg, soy, or lupin, none were found to have any detectable level of those allergens.

The authors propose a national reporting system to catalogue and investigate adverse reactions to foods that bear a precautionary label in order to provide important confirmatory information about the effect of food labelling on consumer outcome.

Reference: Zurzolo et al. 2013. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice. Vol.1(4) pp. 401-403.

Precautionary peanut labels of foods sold in Ireland

Professor Steve Taylor and his colleagues at FARRP have also published additional findings in relation to precautionary allergen labelling on foods. While previous studies elsewhere have shown the vast majority of foods with precautionary allergen statements did not contain detectable levels of peanut, the team at FARRP sought to fill the gap in available data on Irish food products.

Thirty-eight food products bearing peanut/nut allergen-related statements were purchased from multiple locations in the Republic of Ireland and analysed for the presence of peanut. Peanut was detected in at least one lot in 5.3% (2 of 38) of the products tested. The doses of peanut detected ranged from 0.14 mg to 0.52 mg per suggested serving size (0.035-0.13 mg peanut protein). No detectable levels of peanut were found in the products that indicated peanut/nuts as a minor ingredient.

Based on quantitative risk assessment, only a very small percentage of the peanut-allergic population would be likely to experience an allergic reaction if they happened to consume products with this level of peanut protein in them. The remainder of the results indicate that the majority of products with advisory labels appear safe for the peanut-allergic population.

While the authors recommend that food manufacturers analyse products for peanut residues where manufacturing is conducted on shared equipment or in shared facilities to determine whether sufficient risk exists to warrant the use of advisory labelling, they also advise peanut allergy sufferers avoid foods bearing such advisory labelling.

Reference: Robertson et al. 2013 Current Opinion in Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Vol. 13(4): pp.386-91. DOI: 10.1097/ACI.0b013e3283615bc4.

Prevalence of childhood food allergy increases in the United States

Latest data from the USA National Health Interview Survey indicate the prevalence of food and skin allergies increased in children under age 18 years from 1997–1999 to 2009–2011. The prevalence of respiratory allergy, which is the most common type of allergy among children, did not change during this period. There was no significant difference in food allergy prevalence between age groups, while skin allergy decreased with the increase of age and respiratory allergy increased with the increase of age.

Hispanic children had a lower prevalence of food allergy, skin allergy, and respiratory allergy compared with children of other race or ethnicities. Non-Hispanic black children were more likely to have skin allergies and less likely to have respiratory allergies compared with non-Hispanic white children.

Prevalence of food allergy and respiratory allergy, but not skin allergy, increased with higher income levels. Children with family income equal to or greater than 200% of the poverty level had the highest prevalence rates. Among children with family income less than 100% of the poverty level, 4.4% had a food allergy and 14.9% had a respiratory allergy. Food allergy prevalence among children with family income between 100% and 200% of the poverty level was 5.0%, and respiratory allergy prevalence was 15.8%. Among children with family income above 200% of the poverty level, food allergy prevalence was 5.4%, and respiratory allergy prevalence was 18.3%. There was no significant difference in the prevalence of skin allergy by poverty status.

Reference: Jackson et al. 2013. Trends in allergic conditions among children: United States, 1997–2011. NCHS data brief, no 121. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.

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