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Most people have no idea how to spot if someone is having a severe allergic reaction or how to help them despite Australia having one of the highest rates of food allergies in the developed world, research shows.
Four out of five adults do not know the signs of a severe allergic reaction to food and 70 per cent do not know how to help them or use a potentially life-saving adrenaline autoinjector or EpiPen.
Only four per cent of those surveyed by Galaxy Research knew you could be allergic to any food and half did not know you can develop an allergy to a food you have eaten before without a reaction.
The study showed most Australians are aware of common food allergies to peanuts, shellfish and seafood, but few people realise other triggers like bananas, kiwifruit and celery could also lead to potentially fatal allergic reactions.
The research revealed an extremely dangerous combination of lack of awareness and complacency, said Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia CEO Maria Said.
“We all need to be allergy aware – how to use an adrenaline auto-injector must become common first aid knowledge, just like CPR,” she said.
It is estimated more than 650,000 Australians have a diagnosed food allergy and there are about 30,000 new cases every year, Allergy & Anaphylaxis said on Sunday to mark the start of food allergy week.
Still some improvement needed in the allergy world and product packaging but we have come a long way. Anaphylaxis is one of the most prevalent problems in child cares and thus is discussed in detail in first aid courses now all over the world.
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In a first aid course with us you will learn so much about the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis, how to treat it and the use of an epipen.
Australians with food allergies are at risk when deciding whether packaged products are safe to eat because manufacturers are unprepared to indicate which unlabelled foods are safe and which are not, a study has found.
The Murdoch Childrens Research Institute surveyed the allergen risk assessment processes of companies representing 454 different manufacturing sites across Australasia.
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It found 30 per cent of edible packaged goods on supermarket shelves had been declared safe to eat after a risk assessment for food allergens but still remained unlabelled, while products that had not undergone any assessment were also without a label.
Food assessed in the survey included cereals, breads, pastas, tinned food, biscuits and lollies.
Senior author Professor Katie Allen suggested food labelling could be expanded to include “permissive labelling” to inform consumers whether a product was safe to eat.
“This would enable consumers to understand which foods have been through a risk assessment process and which have not,” she said. “Currently allergy consumers are taking significant risks. This situation is just an accident waiting to happen.”
About one in 20 children and two in 100 adults suffer from a food allergy. The most common ingredients that account for more than 90 per cent of food allergies are referred to as the “Big Eight”, and include milk, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and crustacean shellfish.
In Australia two types of labelling are used by manufacturers: mandatory labelling, which is required by law, for any ingredient that is added to a product; and precautionary labelling, which is used by industry and manufacturers to inform consumers if a product may have traces of a certain substance.
Professor Allen argued such labels, indicating an edible product may contain traces of a food allergen, are being overused and “slapped on all sorts of products”. She said there was an urgent need for allergen labelling standardisation.
“It’s become ubiquitous … industry is keen to keen to inform consumers, but they take a ‘zero risk’ approach, that is, if in doubt, put on a label,” Professor Allen said.
In a previous study of supermarket snack products, Professor Allen found 95 per cent of products had some from of precautionary labelling.
“Of around 250 products labels saying ‘may contain traces of’ … we found three had very, very low levels of contamination that would be unlikely to cause reaction,” she said. “The rest had nothing. So we know there is overuse.”
She recommended an Australia-wide uptake of Voluntary Incidental Trace Allergen Labelling, a risk assessment program that estimates the risk of cross-contamination in a factory.
Developed by food manufacturers, industry and allergy groups, VITAL measures the concentration of an allergen in a product. If the concentration is above a certain level a “may be present” warning should be displayed.
However the research paper found a limitation of the VITAL process; products with concentrations below the level, which were “considered to be safe for consumption by food allergic consumers”, had no information on their labels that alerted consumers to this difference.
“Therefore, it is unclear whether these products contain trivial amounts of allergens and are safe to consume or whether they have simply not undergone a risk assessment and remain untested and therefore unlabelled,” the report said.
Professor Allen and her colleagues will reconvene alater this year with food industry representatives to endorse a national uptake of VITAL.
A spokesman for the Australian Food and Grocery Council said it was no surprise some member companies took a conservative approach.
“Health is first and foremost, and the massive consequences of getting it wrong are too great,” he said.
VITAL continued to evolve and was considered best practice for industry around the world, the spokesman added.