The food industry has made huge improvements in recent years in its provision of products for the food allergic community as well as those with specific dietary needs.
However, we have recently found that there can be confusion about the difference between foods marketed as being “Free From” a particular ingredient; and foods that carry a warning that they may be at risk of contamination from certain allergenic ingredients, i.e. “May Contain” warnings.
To try to explain the differences and also some of the risks involved with both definitions we have created the guide below.
Free From Foods
In recent years there has been a huge increase in this food sector. Food manufactures have recognised the need for consumers to have a choice of food which does not include their allergen/s or ingredients that can cause intolerances.
The Anaphylaxis Campaign views this as an excellent development, and we are working with a lot of these companies.
However caution still is still advised, and we would urge those with food allergies to take into account these points:
For some years, scientists around the world have been working towards an understanding of threshold doses for food allergens – the lowest amount that can trigger an allergic reaction. Once a threshold dose has been established for each allergenic food, then industry can make efforts to reduce cross-contamination to below those levels. The result might be fewer “may contain” warnings.
The case against establishing thresholds
Not everyone agrees with the idea of thresholds. The main argument against is based on the perception that minute traces can kill. Although this perception may be largely founded on scare stories and extreme cases, it must be acknowledged that small amounts of an allergen can trigger symptoms in people who are highly allergic. Whether these symptoms are life-threatening is beside the point. Any symptoms requiring treatment are unpleasant and alarming.
Furthermore, an allergic person’s own threshold can vary from day to day. How much they react to at any given time may depend on factors such as their general state of health, how well their asthma is controlled, whether they have been exercising strenuously or drinking alcohol, and other factors. Even if industry works to agreed thresholds, would these limits be misleading if a person can react to lower amounts at certain times?
People are right to question whether any industry actions based on agreed thresholds will protect 100 per cent of the allergic population all of the time. The answer is that there is likely to be a very small minority who are so susceptible that they could react to an amount below the threshold.
The case for thresholds
There are various strands to this argument:
The Anaphylaxis Campaign is supportive of the concept of thresholds and looks forward to this work being developed further.
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