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Undeclared peanut and tree nut allergens in prepackaged foods

Abstract

The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) and the Consumer Council (CC) have conducted a joint study on undeclared peanut and tree nut allergens in prepackaged foods on the market with an aim to explore the possible presence of undeclared allergens in certain prepackaged food products sold in Hong Kong in order to heighten the awareness of consumers and food trade on this issue before the grace period of the Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) (Amendment) Regulation (The Amendment Regulation) expires on 9 July 2007.

Background

2. One of the new requirements of the Amendment Regulation is the declaration on the food labels the presence of the eight most common allergy causing substances. These allergens include: (i) cereals containing gluten; (ii) crustacean and crustacean products; (iii) eggs and egg products; (iv) fish and fish products; (v) peanuts, soybeans and their products; (vi) milk and milk products (including lactose); (vii) tree nuts and nut products and (viii) food containing sulphite (with concentration of 10 parts per million or more).

3. The eight types of allergens accounted for more than 90% of all food allergic reactions. Common symptoms of allergy include skin irritations, nausea, diarrhoea, sneezing and shortness of breath. Currently, there is no cure for food allergy. A severe food allergy can be life-threatening. Strict avoidance of the allergy-causing food is the only way to avoid a reaction. Individuals with food allergies need to rely on an accurate food label to choose food.

The study

4. A total of 53 samples including biscuits, cakes, chocolates, bread spreads, ice-cream, frozen foods, and cereal products were collected for testing of peanut and tree nut allergens (almond and hazelnut). The allergens were selected for testing since they are common ingredients in prepackaged foods and there were previous occasions that the presence of undeclared peanuts and tree nuts in these products has led to voluntary recalls by the trade in overseas countries

5. Laboratory analyses (using ELISA* test kits) were conducted by the Food Research Laboratory of CFS. Peanut and tree nuts were detected in 18 of the 53 samples tested. Among them, one sample was positive for both peanut and almond, one was positive for both peanut and hazelnut, seven were positive for peanut, three were positive for almond and six were positive for hazelnut.

Advice

6. Food manufacturers should provide correct and complete food labels and ensure that their products comply with the Amendment Regulation before the grace period expires. They should also check all aspects of their operations to develop plans to prevent the introduction of unidentified allergens.

7. People suffering from food allergies should read the food labels when purchasing food and ask the suppliers for further information if in doubt. If feeling unwell after eating, medical treatment should be sought immediately.

May 2007
Risk Assessment Section
Centre for Food Safety
Food and Environmental Hygiene Department

For the study report (only available in Chinese), please click the following website:
"Study on undeclared peanut and tree nut allergens in prepackaged foods (Chinese version)"

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