By Allergen Bureau

Precautionary allergen labelling risks quantified for Canadian consumers

Previous studies have analysed and reported on the concerning variability of allergen levels in food products bearing a precautionary allergen label (PAL). Canadian researchers set out to determine the situation in their country and offer local guidance for better management of allergen risks.

Over 800 products were tested, using samples from five lots of each product. Samples were tested for peanuts and/or hazelnuts using ELISA methods. Of the products tested for peanuts, 72 per cent had a PAL, while 27 per cent had a ‘peanut-free’ label claim. Ninety-four per cent of the products tested for hazelnut had a PAL referring to tree nuts or hazelnuts, while 6 per cent had a nut-free claim.

Intra-lot variability was found to be significant; peanuts and hazelnuts were detected in one or more samples for 4 per cent and 9 per cent of the products, respectively.

One sample from a cookie with a peanut-free claim tested positive for peanut; no products with a nut-free claim tested positive for hazelnut.

Chocolate products with a PAL were the most likely to contain peanut or hazelnut in one or more lot samples, with the highest result corresponding to around 1.45 g hazelnuts per 100 g chocolate bar. The authors suggest manufacturing practices need to be improved to lead food industries to a better use of PAL based on risk assessments and efforts to minimize cross-contact. This would help avoid the use of PAL to make blanket statements that are not helpful for the consumer.

The research group separately published a probalistic risk assessment study for milk in dark chocolate, cookies, and other baked products sold in Canada with a milk-related PAL.

Previously published data was used to determine dose-response curves for milk, and Canadian consumption data was extracted from a national survey as well as a survey involving food-allergic Canadians. Average exposures per eating occasion were calculated as 24 mg (dark chocolate), 3.9 mg (baked goods), and 0.20 mg (cookies) of milk proteins.

The estimated risk of having a milk-induced allergic reaction by consuming foods with PAL for milk was higher for dark chocolate (16 per cent) than baked goods (3.8 per cent) or cookies (0.6 percent) in Canadians with milk allergy. The researchers recommend that people with milk allergy avoid any of these products that have a milk-related PAL to prevent allergic reactions.

Reference 1: Manny et al. 2021. Nature Partner Journal. Science of Food. DOI: 10.1038/s41538-021-00093-4. Link to Open Access article  

Reference 2: Manny et al. 2021. Food and Chemical Toxicology

DOI: 10.1016/j.fct.2021.112196