Food manufacturers should be aware that lifestyle changes are exposing the public to a wider variety of foods that could contain troublesome allergens.
This is the view of allergy expert Dr Isabel Skypala, director of rehabilitation and therapies at the Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust.
Skypala said: “When I first started practising you rarely saw allergies to nut and soy, which have now become mainstream. Now other foods are becoming more troublesome.
“Kiwi fruit, for example, arrived in the UK in the 1970s and, by the 90s, we were starting to see allergic reactions to it.”
She also cites apple, peach and legumes as “potentially troublesome” ingredients.
New European labelling legislation coming into force in December 2014 only requires a certain number of key allergens to be highlighted on ingredients lists (see below). Kiwi fruit is not on the list, nor are apple, peach or legumes.
Allergens can be life threatening
“They’re not common allergens but they can be life threatening for the people who suffer from them,” Skypala says. “I’m hoping that the list will be revised to include peaches.”
If an allergen is an obvious component of a food, it’s easy for an allergy sufferer to avoid it but some processed foods contain hidden ingredients.
“Fruits are often added as a composite ingredient,” says Skypala. “It’s not always obvious when you look at a product that it contains apple, for example. Apple juice is often added to smoothies and there are people who can have severe reactions to apple in this country.
“Pea protein is added to a lot of processed foods but it isn’t always labelled but it can be a major allergen. Some areas of the UK have a lot of problems with legumes such as Birmingham and the UK.”
Lupin flour can cause severe reactions
“Legume-based flours are used in many processed foods while soy flour is often added to bread or other protein products to increase the level of protein. In certain countries in mainland Europe lupin flour can cause severe reactions. It’s rarely found in foods in the UK but you’ll find it in gluten-free foods imported from mainland Europe.”
The types of foods that cause allergies vary from one country to another. Scandinavian countries have a higher rate of allergy to kiwi fruit, Mediterranean countries are more prone to having severe to reactions to peach, while legume allergies are more common in Spain.
So what should food manufacturers do? Skypala’s solution is to put everything on the label.
“Food allergy’s not just about nuts, which is the classic assumption made. Food manufacturers need to recognise that there are other foods that can cause severe reactions in people so it’s better to highlight everything on the label, even if you don’t have to [by law].”
The EU’s 14 major allergens
Current allergen labelling rules will change on December 13 2014 when the new Food Information for Consumers Regulation comes into force. After this date, 14 major allergens will have to be highlighted within a product’s ingredients list.
- cereals containing gluten
- crustaceans, for example prawns, crabs, lobster and crayfish
- nuts, such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pecan nuts, Brazil nuts, pistachio, cashew and macadamia (Queensland) nuts
- sulphur dioxide, which is a preservative found in some dried fruit
- molluscs, for example clams, mussels, whelks, oysters, snails.