The Allergen Bureau was proud to convene an afternoon session at the 2021 AIFST Food Science Convention to provide industry with an ANZ and European view on allergen management and labelling. Kirsten Grinter (Nestlé), Jasmine Lacis-Lee (BVAQ) and Georgina Christensen represented the Allergen Bureau, giving updates on critical areas of allergen management and labelling that have been the organisation’s focus in recent months.
The Allergen Bureau – the peak industry body representing food industry allergen management
As the Chair of the Allergen Bureau, Kirsten presented the refreshed vision and mission of the organisation, which now includes a global view while keeping the consumer at the heart of all we do. As a member-based organisation, the overall aim of the Allergen Bureau is to lead the global food industry in best practice allergen management, sharing information that builds trust and transparency that supports allergen sensitive consumers to make informed choices.
The current strategic plan comprises five focal areas:
- Evidence-based science
- Best practice allergen management and resources
- Key stakeholder acknowledgment
- Global influence and brand recognition
- Good governance and financial sustainability.
The Allergen Bureau website was relaunched earlier this year, allowing easier navigation and presenting three best practice guidance resources:
- Food Industry Guidelines for Allergen Management and Labelling (FIGAML)
- Allergen Risk Review website (ARRW)
- The VITAL® Program.
Much work by many industry stakeholders, regulators and consumer groups has gone into the refreshed resources that are now available on the website. Still to come are the VITAL Best Practice Labelling Guide (updated with the Plain English Allergen Labelling [PEAL] requirements) and the VITAL One Step Further that will include nominated reference amounts to provide another level of consistency and transparency when conducting risk assessments. Kirsten also noted the recent outcomes from the FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on Risk Assessment, which will be reviewed in more detail in the coming months to determine what changes to VITAL, if any, may be required.
FIGAML – Industry best practice for the management of allergens, allergen labelling, and allergen communication
Jasmine spoke of key changes within the updated FIGAML resource but put these in the context of why exactly we need to care about allergens in food. While prevalence of food allergy around the world appears to be stabilised, rates of anaphylaxis are increasing. While rates of hospital admissions due to food allergy anaphylaxis have increased, the number of fatalities has fallen. Cow’s milk, is being recognised as a significant allergen globally, and in the UK alone is responsible for over a quarter of all food related fatalities
Victorian hospital admission data over a 2 year period has shown 60 per cent of anaphylaxis presentations are due to food, however most of these episodes are not related to packaged food or errors in allergen labelling, but associated with the food service sector. Most are first time reactions, where allergy sufferers my not have experienced analylaxis previously, and sadly in the young adult group, reactions appear to be linked to individuals not disclosing their food allergies, sadly this has resulted in two deaths.
This type of data is useful for informing and guiding industry and has helped to shape the updated FIGAML resource, particularly around how to effectively communicate to consumers about critical food formulation changes.
PAL and PEAL
Georgina spoke of the biggest regulatory change affecting allergen labelling in 20 years – the Plain English Allergen Labelling (PEAL) requirements brought into effect by FSANZ in February 2021.
As a result, the Allergen Bureau has been working hard to provide guidance and advice to industry, acknowledging that this is a new area for everyone. In the interim, the VITAL Best Practice Labelling Guide has been temporarily withdrawn and will be re-released with relevant updates shortly.
Georgina worked through several specific examples of how the PEAL requirements may be met for different types of ingredient lists, highlighting some areas where discretion can be used in the summary information panel.
Ultimately, she emphasised the need to refer to and comply with the FSANZ Code above all else, noting again that as they are voluntary, PAL is beyond the scope of the Code.
For further support and guidance on the new PEAL requirements, please refer to the Food Industry Guide to Allergen Management and Labelling (FIGAML) and Food Allergen Fundamental presentation resources available on the Allergen Bureau website.
Dr’s Sylvia Pfaff and Marty Blom also contributed to the session, providing a European view on issues such as Precautionary Allergen Labelling (PAL), food recalls and risk-based labelling assessments based on food intake data.