What's Not on the Label MAY Hurt (or Kill) You

Recent study asserts that some foods contain undeclared allergens without precautionary allergen labeling.

October 5, 2018 - Author: Kris DeAngelo

Updated from an original article written by iflr@msu.edu.

allergens word cloud

A recent study by the University Medical Center (UMC) Utrecht and The Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) offered findings that support the assertion that some foods contain undeclared allergens without precautionary allergen labeling. Crazy!  Unfortunately, these undeclared allergens do pose a serious threat to unwary consumers with allergies.

In this study, 157 adults with confirmed food allergy profiles were followed for a year and asked to report allergic symptoms, potential causal foods, and amount of the potential causal foods consumed.  These reports were coupled, when possible, with labels as well as actual samples of the foods eaten and amounts consumed.  These consumed foods were then screened for various allergens by either ELISA or PCR for the allergens that the patient was sensitive to.

Of the foods which caused allergic reactions in consumers, a whopping 37% tested positive for a non-ingredient allergen without the required precautionary allergen labeling.  What is worse, some of these tested foods contained as many as 4 different undeclared allergens.  These egregious products were incredibly diverse; prepackaged chocolate and bonbons, bread, rolls, cookies, cake, crackers, toast, sauces and soups as well as meat and complete meals with a variety of components. Within these products the non-ingredient allergens included cow's milk, peanut, hazelnut, sesame, pecan nut, walnut, egg and celery. It doesn't seem too bad if you aren't allergic.  Except for the fact that 15% of food allergies are first diagnosed in adulthood and 20-25% of epinephrine administrations in schools, to prevent allergic anaphylaxis and possible death, involve patients without known allergies at the time of the reaction. So what's not on the label but in the food could in fact hurt you!

Naturally the question arises, how did these non-ingredient allergens come to be in these foods? Perhaps cross-contamination occurred at the manufacturing plant of the food or an inadept ingredient supplier.  Perhaps the allergens were intentional but were accidentally left of the label due to change in formulation or human error.  It is sometimes impossible to tell.

Regardless, now that data indicates that non-ingredient allergens occur in a variety of foods, the key is to develop technologies to either prevent these products from being placed on the market or to quickly promote applicable mobile or smartphone technologies for sensitive consumers who may have life-threatening reactions to be able to easily test their foods for safety.   But these discussions are for another, possibly, allergic filled day.

(Read more about the recent developments here https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5492046/)

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