Calls for tighter regulations on food labels

    Studies are showing that there needs to be tighter regulations on food labels, as product recalls are happening left right and centre.

    Dr Giovanni Zurzolo, a research fellow in the Allergy and Lung Health Unit at the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health and a Murdoch Children’s Research Institute honorary fellow, investigates food labelling and cross-contact issues.

    Questions have been raised about food recalls and how potential allergens should be approached. However, using Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) data from 2018, Dr Zurzolo says its incorrect labelling causing most food recalls from 2016-18.

    “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,” says Dr Zurzolo.

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

    FSANZ conducted 675 food recalls from 2009 to 2018 – undeclared allergens (39%), microbial contamination, such as yeast or bacteria (26%) and foreign matter (16%) accounted for most recalls.

    In mid-2016, FSANZ added another question to determine the cause of undeclared allergen recalls.

    It found that for 2016-2018, packaging errors where the food product was either packed into incorrect packaging or was incorrectly labelled accounted for 56% of these recalls, supplier verification issues 16% and cross-contact 10%.

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

    Ingredient labels are regulated in Australia, but precautionary labelling is optional. Dr Zurzolo says the data covered reported incidents, so the actual incidence could be higher. He said this meant some consumers faced unnecessary risks. Allergen statements could also be confusing.

    Dr Zurzolo concludes: “Hopefully, this identification will help industry to reduce the problem.”

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