A researcher from the University of Melbourne is calling on tighter regulations and improved packaging practices to reduce the amount of incorrect labelling on food products, which is causing “too many” allergic reactions.

Allergy and Lung Health Unit at the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health research fellow Dr Giovanni Zurzolo raised questions on food recalls and how potential allergens should be approached. 

He cites incorrect labelling caused most food recalls between 2016 and 2018, according to Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) data, in an article published in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health. Until then, cross-contact in the supply change – such as nut traces in chocolate – was assumed to be the main cause.

“Our current results suggest that in Australia, packaging errors are a leading cause of food recalls due to presence of undeclared food allergens, not allergen cross-contact,” Zurzolo said.

“This finding may also explain the relatively high prevalence of consumer reported anaphylaxis to processed food, as we have previously reported.”

Although ingredient labels are regulated in Australia, precautionary labelling is optional. Zurzolo said the data covers only reported incidents, and the actual number of incidents could be higher, putting “unnecessary risk” on consumers, as well as the potential for “confusing” allergen statements on packs.

Packaging errors, where the food product was either packed into incorrect packaging or was incorrectly labelled, accounted for 56 per cent of recalls, supplier verification issues 16 per cent and cross-contact 10 per cent, between 2016 and 2018.

“There is a need for improved packaging practices to minimise foods with undeclared allergens and increase food safety for food allergic consumers,” said Zurzolo.

“We have called upon industry and governments to have one risk-assessment process that all manufacturers must adhere to. That would help reduce the chances of these adverse reactions.”

“Authorities should mandate one risk assessment process as currently we are unsure of what process is being used by the majority of manufactures. And government auditing of manufacturers should be more prevalent.”

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