All food companies (including processors, marketers and importers) must ensure that allergen management and labelling practices are up to date and being monitored to ensure compliance with Australian/New Zealand allergen regulations. This includes being aware of ingredients used in different steps of processing and handling, so that allergens can be correctly identified. In this way, consumers can obtain factual information about allergen content. Unexpected allergens are some of the most dangerous for all concerned, but from where do unexpected allergens originate? There are three main origins.
- As an ingredient in a processed food such as an additive or preservative. For example, egg can be used in wine clarification and soy lecithin is used as an emulsifier.
- Food service providers. The current situation is that there is no standardised, easily accessible education for food service providers managing food allergies as a food safety issue. This continues to impact the health and quality of life of individuals with food allergies and contributes to mismanagement in food service, despite best intentions. Further to this, food provided by food service providers (either in the community, camps or hospital settings) has resulted in preventable food-induced anaphylaxis including recent fatal anaphylaxis cases in Australia(1)
- Cross contact (aka cross contamination). Ingredients handled in powder form, such as flour, can form aerosols. These remain airborne until re-deposited on working surfaces and surrounds, even after they’ve been cleaned. Other insidious sources of cross contacts are difficult to clean, hard-to-reach areas in equipment and utensils. Remnants of allergens can remain and be transferred to the next processed product. Allergen detection and analysis is required to verify that processes and cleaning is avoiding cross contact.
How can unexpected allergens be avoided? Food industry workers can incorporate an HACCP (Hazard Avoidance and Critical Control Points) system in their work practices. This systematic preventive approach helps develop a risk management plan logically and efficiently. Nevertheless, allergen detection and analysis is needed to verify that guidelines are being followed and are working.Foods and ingredients may be sourced from suppliers with limited understanding, or different interpretations of the Australian/New Zealand allergen requirements. It is important to check all information from suppliers carefully and obtain clarification where allergen information is unclear or incomplete. This information, as well as whether the necessary precautions are being taken in transport and storage, can also be checked by a rapid qualitative test.