Whats on the label

European Union governments have passed laws obliging manufacturers to declare allergenic ingredients, additives, and substances involved in food processing on their pre-packaged food. Although good labelling of allergens is still very much in its infancy, it is good news for people with allergies, as shopping for food without enough information has sometimes felt like taking your life in your hands! It has reduced the risk but not eliminated it and ultimately, what you eat or give your family or friends to eat remains your responsibility. Progress worth celebrating includes:

Major allergens that account for around 90 per cent of all food-induced allergic reactions have been identified and agreed: there are 14 in EU countries and 8 in the USA and Australia with others pending.

Labels must list major allergens. Requirements vary depending on where you live but most rulings oblige manufacturers to declare the following allergens on product packaging: cereals containing gluten, eggs, peanuts, nuts, milk and dairy products, soya, fish, crustaceans, and shellfish. The EU also requires listing of celery, mustard, sesame seeds, and certain quantities of sulphites.

Any newly identified major potential allergens will be added to the list. A recent addition is lupin. Lupin flour is used in pastries and the seeds eaten as a snack. Most reactions have been in children and also in adults who are allergic to peanuts. Another is molluscs, specifically cuttlefish, squid, abalone, oyster, and snail.

Latex allergy, not yet on the official list, is a growing problem. This allergy to the sap of commercially grown rubber trees causes symptoms that may progress rapidly and unpredictably from skin contact reactions to anaphylaxis on subsequent exposure.

All allergens should be listed irrespective of the quantity in the finished food. Manufacturers must now list all sub-ingredients of a compound ingredient to reduce the problem of hidden or undeclared ingredients. For example, they can no longer list "rusks" as an ingredient without saying that these are made from cereals that contain gluten.

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