WHAT IS A FOOD ALLERGY?
Food allergies occur when the body’s immune system overreacts to substances in food you have eaten, triggering an allergic reaction. A food allergy is an abnormal response of the body’s immune system to a food/food component. Food allergy symptoms range from a mild response (for example a skin rash) to a life threatening reaction. The foods/food components that have the potential to cause allergic reactions are usually proteins and are known as food allergens. People with food allergies must avoid consuming those foods known to contain the food allergen of concern, to prevent an allergic reaction.
HOW DO I KNOW IF A PRODUCT CONTAINS ALLERGEN INGREDIENTS?
In New Zealand, food allergens and/or substances capable of causing an allergic reaction or intolerance must be declared on food labels. The mandatory food allergens that must be declared on food labels include:
- Cereals containing gluten and their products (wheat, rye, barley, oats and spelt and their hybridised strains)
- Crustacea (e.g. crayfish, crabs, prawns) and their products
- Egg and egg products
- Fish and fish products
- Milk and milk products
- Nuts and sesame seeds and their products
- Peanuts and soybeans, and their products
- Added sulphites in concentrations of 10mg/kg or more
Food products containing the above allergens must be declared when present as:
- An ingredient
- An ingredient of a compound ingredient
- A food additive or component of a food additive
- A processing aid or component of a processing aid
These allergens can be declared in the ingredient list.
WHAT DOES ‘MAY CONTAIN’ MEAN?
Some food labels say ‘may contain’ certain allergens, such as ‘may contain nuts’. This is because the manufacturer is concerned that traces of nuts might be present in the food unintentionally, if, for example, the food is prepared on the same equipment as products that contain nuts.