Making Food Allergen Labelling Work For Consumers And Food Manufacturers
Tuesday, March 16th, 2021
Food Allergies – A Growing Concern
Food allergies have become a topic of major consumer concern over the last few years. As diagnosed cases of food allergy rise, both awareness of the problem and the need to better inform allergic consumers who are on a restricted diet have increased. In addition, with the increasing food exports from Asia-pacific to the rest of the world, manufacturers are subjected to the importing countries’ regulations on food allergens, hence the growing importance of knowledge in food allergies.
Regulators in the Asia-Pacific region have also increasingly mandated that food manufacturers and importers label for mandatory allergens in their markets. As a result, different approaches to precautionary allergen labelling (PAL) have emerged. However, PAL can severely and unnecessarily limit the choices of food that are safe for consumption by an allergic consumer.
Rather than benefitting the manufacturers and retailers, PAL should become a trusted method that empowers allergic consumers to make safer food choices. Jasmine Lacis-Lee of the Allergen Bureau summarises this dynamic by noting that “many organisations still struggle with how to approach the implementation of allergen management while obtaining the business commitment required in their facilities.”
Developed and managed by the Allergen Bureau, the Voluntary Incidental Trace Allergen Labelling (VITAL) program is designed to address allergen management based on a scientific-risk assessment process, complementary to existing food safety systems like HACCP. A stated goal of VITAL is to avoid the indiscriminate use of PAL and thereby preserve its value as risk management tool.
Allergen analysis plays a significant role in the application of VITAL in the overall process of risk assessment. It can assist in several crucial areas: verifying ingredient allergen statements, verifying the allergen profile of raw materials and potential raw material cross-contact, targeting the analysis to assess cleaning efficacy and cleaning validations, confirming assumptions made during the risk assessment process, monitoring the effect of critical changes, and validating the VITAL risk assessment.
Besides training personnel and putting policies and measures in place, the process of validation and testing is also essential in ensuring that the allergen management system is effective. Equipment and production lines should be tested regularly for food allergens to ensure that cleaning has been thoroughly carried out.
New Developments in Regulations for Food Allergens
Recently, the declaration of individual tree nuts became mandatory in Australia. This benefits the allergic population in that the allergen identification is now specific. The feedback to this new regulation has been positive as it provides an improvement to the quality of life of allergic consumers, allowing them to enjoy wider food options. Ms Yong Wee LIAU, Managing Director of Romer Labs Asia-Pacific also shared, “It is really a great step forward in terms of food safety regulations especially to people suffering from food allergies. It also pushes food manufacturers to implement measures in their allergen risk management programmes to eliminate cross-contaminations of allergens as a blanket allergen declaration is now insufficient. Food allergies can be fatal and we should all take allergen management seriously to ensure that food is safe to enjoy for different groups of people. Food safety is of utmost importance in all aspects of life.”
Accredited food allergen test kits from Romer Labs offer validated solutions for testing individual tree nuts and other food allergens, helping food manufacturers to comply with this new rule in allergen declaration in Australia. Romer Labs rapid tests are suited for on-site qualitative testing, while ELISA test kits provide quantitative results for the detection of food allergens. Food manufacturers who integrate these tests into their allergen management systems and use them regularly can effectively ensure that food products, equipment and production lines are allergen-free.
 Romer Labs. Spot On, Issue 10. “Precautionary Allergen Labelling: Informing Consumers or Just Covering Your Assets?”.
 The Allergen Bureau. Food Industry Guide to the Voluntary Incidental Trace Allergen Labelling (VITAL) Program Version 3.0.
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