1. Is there any minimum threshold or tolerance limit for allergens in prepackaged food?
At present, there is no tolerance limit for allergens in food as it is generally considered that a trace of allergens can lead to allergic reactions.
2. Are the eight allergens listed in the law adopted according to international standards? Do they have corresponding international identification numbers?
The eight allergens listed in the law are adopted according to the standards of the Codex Alimentarius Commission. Sulphite is one of food allergens requiring for labelling that belongs to a food additive. There are nine food additives containing sulphite and their international identification numbers are 220, 221, 222, 223, 224, 225, 226, 227 and 539 respectively. Other allergens, such as milk, eggs and peanuts, do not have international identification numbers as they are natural food instead of food additives.
3. Are there any prepackaged food exempted from the labelling requirements on allergens?
According to Schedule 4 to the Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) Regulations, some prepackaged food are exempted from the requirements of declaring allergens in the list of ingredients in paragraph 2 of Schedule 3. They include prepackaged food packed in a container the largest surface of which has an area of less than 10 cm2, individually wrapped preserved fruits which are intended for sale as single items, any food consisting of a single ingredient, etc.
4. Is food allergy common?
In fact, of all the individuals who have adverse reactions to certain foods, only a few have true food allergy. The World Health Organization estimates that around 1-3% of adults and 4-6% of children suffer from food allergy. One should seek medical advice if an adverse reaction to a certain food is suspected.
5. How much food allergens have to be taken to cause an allergy?
The reactions to food allergens vary with individuals. Even trace amount of allergens can cause an allergic reaction. Food allergen cannot be eliminated by cooking methods, therefore people suffering from food allergies should pay special attention to food ingredients.
6. Are all shellfishes common food allergens?
No. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, crustacean shellfish (such as shrimp, crab, or lobster) are major sources of food allergen, but molluscan shellfish (such as oysters, scallops or clams) are not.
7. What are tree nuts?
Tree nuts are the seeds of trees which are enclosed in hard shells. Its edible portions are called kernels. The nuts that are most likely causing allergic reactions are almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, cashew nuts, pine nuts, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, and pecans.
8 . Does the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) carry out inspections to see if allergens are present in prepackaged food in the market since the Amendment Regulation came into effect on 10 July 2007? Does it focus on certain types of food?
Since the Regulation came into effect on 10 July 2007, the CFS has carried out law enforcement by three different means: (1) taking samples in the market, requesting manufacturers/importers to correct the labels if undeclared allergen(s) is/are found in prepackaged food and considering prosecution if they fail to follow instructions. The samples taken are mainly food that may contain allergens; (2) inspecting the labels on prepackaged food in the market and issuing warning letters to manufacturers/importers for labels not complying with the required format (e.g. should mark Tuna (fish) instead of Tuna); (3) taking follow-up actions upon receipt of complaints.
9. Is it required to declare allergens in both Chinese and English?
According to paragraph 8 of Schedule 3 to the Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) Regulations, the labelling of prepackaged food shall be in either the English or the Chinese language or in both languages.