FOOD ALLERGIES Food allergy is now recognised as an important food safety issue, and the food industry has a responsibility to assist those who suffer allergies to select a suitable diet with confidence. Manufacturers are urged to practise due diligence in considering the use of major serious allergens as ingredients, by: • Warning of the presence or potential presence of allergens in products • Preventing cross-contamination of products with allergens from other products during storage, handling and processing • Ensuring the proper development of recipes and controls to ensure that the food product, as prepared, contains only the ingredients specified. www.foodtechnology.co.nz 15 suddenly does. This may be because a new ingredient is added or there is a new supplier for an ingredient. This places allergic consumers in a quandary… whether to continue with foods which have been previously tolerated or whether to seek other brands. The situation is complex, as some products from the same factory may have high levels of allergen at the start of a new batch, but the allergen is progressively diluted further along the manufacturing chain. Inadvertent cross contamination is also a risk, and can occur during manufacture from the point of harvest to the dinner table. It is unlikely most manufactured foods can be declared completely free from allergens. One approach is to define food allergen thresholds – the levels of allergens below which patients with food allergy will not react to. This is a difficult area, but it is hoped data will be available from food challenges, where the threshold of reactivity can be better defined for highly allergic people. There are many problems with this approach, as many factors affect the severity of a reaction, including the sensitivity of the patient, the food matrix and co-factors such as alcohol and exercise. In most cases supervised food challenges are undertaken in hospital or specialised settings, where the patient has not consumed alcohol or will not immediately undertake exercise. There is also the likelihood that patients who are highly sensitive/allergic will not undergo food challenges, because of the perceived risks of a clinical reaction. Another evolving area which causes difficulties for allergic patients is that of functional foods. We have defined these as containing health-promoting properties in addition to their nutritional value. There have been several examples of allergic reactions to these foods, which we describe as hyperallergenic. Associate Professor Rohan Ameratunga is an Auckland-based immunologist. They are a serious threat to food allergic patients, as they contain higher concentrations of allergen than their food of origin. We advise manufacturers to undertake food allergy testing and ensure such products are clearly labelled. It is very important for the name of the product to reflect the food of origin to reduce the risk of inadvertent consumption. Food manufacturers may need to exceed labelling requirements to keep consumers safe. It is becoming apparent food allergens are now appearing in unexpected products, such as the experimental ice creams in Iceland containing high concentrations of fish allergens. It is essential allergic consumers remain vigilant, particularly when trialling a new food. Until safe curative options are widely available, avoidance of allergenic foods will remain the joint responsibility of manufacturers, regulatory authorities and allergic consumers.
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