Page 20 - Food&Drink Magazine May-June 2020
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Precautionary measures
What is behind a “may contain” label? Romer Labs senior research scientist
Adrian Rogers explains a new initiative to provide realistic risk assessment that food producers can use to help their consumers make scientifically informed decisions.
ANYONE who buys pre-packed food cannot help but notice what seems to be a proliferation of “may contain” statements on ingredients labels these days.
Such precautionary allergen labelling (PAL) is voluntary on the part of the food manufacturers and grocery stores and aims to guide an allergenic consumer as to the risk of potential contamination of the food from one or more food allergens during production and handling.
But what’s behind a “may contain” label? Is it an honest, science-based assessment of risk designed to inform the consumer, or is it a legalistic overreaction designed to immunise a food producer from possible lawsuits?
A growing concern among the allergy community is that “may contain” statements are
descending into mere alibi labelling, whereby food producers and retailers are listing all allergens to protect themselves against any possible litigation.
This is an issue of real consequence: millions of consumers around the world suffer both from the risk of allergic reactions to certain food and the limits that this risk imposes on their choice of food at the store and in a restaurant.
Such precautionary labelling can severely and unnecessarily limit the choices of food safe to eat for an allergenic consumer.
So, what can be done to make the use of PAL, a scientific, risk-based assessment rather then something that seems only to protect manufacturers and retailers?
This is the quandary the Australian and New Zealand- based Allergen Bureau faced.
The Allergen Bureau was established in 2005 as a non-profit industry organisation in partnership with national and multinational food manufacturing and marketing companies, suppliers, importers, exporters, retailers and consumer groups.
Its overall aim is to share information and experience within the food industry on the management of food allergens to ensure that consumers receive relevant, consistent and comprehensible information on food allergens.
In consultation with experts, the Allergen Bureau manages the Voluntary Incidental Trace Allergen Labelling (VITAL) Program. While continuing to invest in VITAL and other allergen management
resources, the Bureau engages in a range of food allergen management initiatives on behalf of its stakeholders.
It aims to make sure that manufactured food is safe to eat for the vast majority of food allergic consumers by providing consistent precautionary labelling criteria to allow allergic consumers and those who care for them to avoid buying food that may present a risk to the individual. In this way, they work to preserve the value of precautionary labelling as a risk management tool.
VITAL provides a common approach to due diligence for identification, reduction and control of cross-contact allergens and the process that can determine the appropriate use of precautionary allergen labelling.
Prior to any implementation of VITAL, a robust allergen
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