High level of allergens found in imported foods

Scientists testing imported foods from Asia found that nearly half of the samples had undeclared allergens.

Professor Andreas Lopata, head of James Cook University’s Molecular Allergy Research Laboratory led the recent study which involved the purchase of 50 packaged food items from six Asian grocery stores in Melbourne for testing.

“Allergens not listed on the product labelling were detected in 46 per cent of the products analysed, with 18 per cent containing multiple undeclared allergens,” professor Lopata said.

Undeclared allergens included egg, gluten, milk and peanut, with very high concentrations in some products. Professor Lopata said that food allergies are increasing globally and Australia has one of the highest incidences of food allergies in children.

“Hospital admissions for food-induced acute allergic reactions rose by about 350 per cent in Australia between 1997 and 2005 and increased a further 150 per cent over the next seven years to 2012,” he said. 

Most of the products with undeclared allergens were from China, followed by Thailand and South Korea.

“That’s of concern, with Australian imports from ASEAN countries (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) increasing from 18 to 23 per cent from 2002 to 2012, and the food trade from Asia to Australia continuing to increase by about 2.5 per cent each year,” he said.

Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland have also tested imported food from those countries and found that 10 per cent of products where mislabelled with the detected allergens.

“With the increasing number of food recalls and anaphylaxis recorded in Australia it’s very important that further action continues in the area of food allergen labelling for the protection of allergic consumers here.”

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