Food Allergen

WHAT IS THE ISSUE?

A small percentage of the population may develop allergic reactions or be sensitive to specific food ingredients. The consequences of allergic reactions may be very serious, in rare cases even fatal. Although many foods may provoke reactions, over 90% of food-allergic reactions are limited to a small number of so-called critical allergens: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, sesame seeds, fish and shellfish, soy and wheat. The prevention of food allergy is based on the avoidance of the specific food.

THE BASICS

Many people suffer from adverse reactions to foods. However, only a small part of the population suffers from true food allergy. Food allergies are well-defined adverse reactions to substances present in food involving the immune system, most often they are mediated by immunoglobulin E (IgE). Food allergens are usually proteins or protein fragments to which allergic individuals have previously been sensitised and which are often resistant to heat and digestion. The prevalence of true food allergy is about 1 in 100 adults and 1 in 20 children but many more people believe they have an allergy. These people may have a food intolerance which can have some of the symptoms of food allergy such as rash, asthma and gastrointestinal symptoms. Many children will grow out of their food allergy although some may remain sensitive for their whole life. Continuing food allergies are more likely to occur with peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds and seafood.

In addition to true food allergies, individuals may suffer from a variety of other food hypersensitivity such as coeliac disease (adverse reaction to gluten) or metabolic food reactions, in which ingested substances provoke adverse reactions due to deficiencies in the digestive or metabolic systems (e.g. lactose intolerance).


KEY INFORMATION

Although more than 160 foods are reported to have caused an allergic reaction, the most severe ones, are limited to eight foods which are the ones that must be labelled in Australia and New Zealand as outlined in Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ).

Critical Food Allergens

  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, pistachios, pinenuts, macadamia nuts, chestnuts)
  • Milk and milk products (including lactose, whey, caseinates, etc.)
  • Egg
  • Sesame Seeds
  • Fish and Crustacean (shrimp, prawns, crab, lobster, crayfish)
  • Soy
  • Cereals containing gluten and their products, namely, wheat, rye, barley, oats and spelt

All these foods have to be clearly mentioned on the label of a product, when they have been used in an ingredient in the product, or even if the ingredient has been derived from an allergenic source e.g. glucose derived from wheat.

The FSANZ allergen list also requires added sulphite at levels of (above 10 mg/kg to be labelled.) so that consumers suffering from sulphite hypersensitivity will be informed. In addition, the list contains all the gluten containing cereals (to which persons suffering from coeliac disease are intolerant).

Other Food Allergens

Starting in 2010, Nestlé has decided to gradually introduce the labelling of 3 additional allergens: mustard, celery and lupins. These allergens are currently labelled in Europe and since Nestlé is a global company, we have decided to label these allergens on all Nestlé products worldwide. This will ensure consumers can easily find the same information on the Nestlé products they enjoy anywhere in the world.

What is lupin?

Lupins belong to the legume family, which also contains peanuts. Small amounts of lupin flour are used in the Australian food industry, mainly in baked goods. Some individuals have experienced allergic reactions to lupins.

Why celery and mustard?

Components and products of mustard seed (like mustard powder) and celery (like celery root and celery spice) have been shown to trigger allergic reactions, particularly in consumers in Europe. In fact, there is evidence that celery and mustard allergies are cross related to birch pollen allergies.

Why not label for other foods that people have shown allergic reactions to?

There are a very large number of foods which may provoke an allergic reaction or intolerance in particular consumers. The majority of these foods will be labelled as ingredients under existing requirements.

Nestlé labels the presence of well known allergens such as milk, eggs and wheat on food labels using a bold font and an allergen summary statement.

Precautionary Labelling Statements

Foods may not be developed to contain an ingredient which is an allergen but if they are made in a facility which also handles allergenic ingredients then the food manufacturer may include precautionary labelling statement such as;

  • "Made on equipment that also processes products containing …..". Or
  • "May contain..." following the ingredients list

The FSANZ web site has an useful Food Allergy section ( http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumerinformation/foodallergies/) with links to Food Allergen Cards. These cards were developed by Anaphylaxis Australia and NSW Food Authority. The cards give a full list of ingredients that may be harmful of someone has an identified allergy. These cards are also useful to take to food stores and restaurants to give full details on the food allergy.

Useful New Zealand Links:

ALLERGIC REACTIONS

Allergic reactions can already be triggered by very small quantities of allergen. Their onset is often extremely rapid after or during ingestion. Reactions may be slight (e.g. oral allergy syndrome) or severe (anaphylaxis) and may lead to anaphylactic shock, which can lead to death.

Food allergy is dependent on culture and eating habits. Allergies to fish, for example, are more common in Japan and Norway than in other countries where traditionally less fish is consumed. The above list of the 8 critical allergens may be increased in the future by allergens that are emerging or are specifically critical in certain regions of the world.

Any evaluation of the relevance of specific food allergens should always consider both the severity AND the prevalence of allergic reactions. You need to seek professional medical advice if you suspect that you or someone in your family has a food allergy. If you are diagnosed with a food allergy then you may find it helpful to get advice from an accredited practicing dietitian who can assist you in avoiding the trigger foods while still eating a nutritiously adequate diet.

This fact sheet contains general information and is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional for specific advice for your personal situation.

If you would like current information about our products please visit www.nestle.com.au/brands or call our Consumer Services Department during business hours on 1800 025 361.


REFERENCES

Food Allergies FSANZ web site accessed April 2011 http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumerinformation/foodallergies/

Better Health Channel: Food Allergy and Intolerance (last updated 2009 accessed April 2011) http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Food_allergy_and_intolerance

Dietitians Association of Australia: Allergy (last updated Jan 2011 - accessed April 2011)

Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) Food Allergy (accessed Apr 2011) 

Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) Adverse Food Reactions (accessed Apr 2011) http://www.allergy.org.au/content/view/290/235/