International food allergens

FARRP map for sesame

Take a look at this world map. It’s by the Food Allergy Research and Resource Program (FARRP) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the US, and offers users the facility to select a food allergen from a choice of around two dozen, and be shown in which countries that allergen is declarable for labelling purposes.

As readers may know, in the EU there are 14 food allergens or food allergen groups. At the time of writing, the UK does not appear to be included in the visual representation when one of the 14 is chosen, for which I can’t offer an explanation, unless perhaps one of the programmers made a premature assumption about Brexit.

Take a look at what happens when ‘cereals containing gluten’ is selected. Only wheat (which is an option on the map) is considered a ‘top 8’ in America, a point European coeliacs must bear in mind when visiting. Ingredients will be named, but derivatives of barley, rye and oats may not specify their source.

My nerdish interest in allergy is drawn to the countries I perhaps unfairly might not have expected to have allergy regulation in place — such as Malawi, the Philippines, South and Central American countries. Ditto to those allergens outside the EU 14 which have been identified as problematic elsewhere — mango in Taiwan, peach and pork in Korea, buckwheat in Japan.

And royal jelly, bee pollen and propolis in Australia …


Aussie Rules …

Australian allergen regulation is also New Zealand allergen regulation, and a good starting point is this page on the Food Standards Allergy New Zealand (FSANZ) website.

Despite a confusing pictorial representation on that FSANZ page that omits some of the allergens, Australia and New Zealand is roughly aligned with the EU, minus mustard and celery.

And: any product containing bee products has to feature a prominent statement such as “this product contains royal jelly which has been reported to cause severe allergic reactions and, in rare cases, fatalities, especially in asthma and allergy sufferers”.

Dig deeper and you’ll see, like the EU, that Australia and New Zealand have some exemptions. As is the case here, fully refined soy oil and glucose derived from wheat starch are among them. But there’s another which caught my eye: an exemption “in relation to cereals containing gluten, where these cereals are present in beer …”

Given our Antipodean friends have stricter laws governing gluten free (which can only be used on products containing ‘no detectable gluten’, unlike the common sub-20ppm limit elsewhere) I’m surprised that beers can get away with not stating they’re barley or wheat based.

I presume the only beers you can be assured of being safe if you’re a visiting coeliac, then, are those made from non-gluten-containing grains or which declare their GF status (there are a handful from Australia listed towards the foot of this list of wheat/barley/gluten-free beers).


US quirks …

There are other curiosities of food allergen labelling which I’ll let you explore on the map, such as the various types of seafood considered problematic across the globe which are shown in additional colour coding on the food allergen grid, but I’ll draw your attention to one last one — the definition of milk in the US, which goes by the rather unappealing “lacteal secretion from cows”.

This, I presume then omits goat and sheep milk, which most people with milk-related food hypersensitivities still react to? Combined with the rather bizarre (and arguably dangerous) American rule that foods labelled “non dairy” can contain up to 0.5% milk — which I wrote about in a previous article about the differences between UK/EU and US labelling here — it strikes me that perhaps the US isn’t the friendliest place to visit if you have a milk allergy or milk allergic child.

And what about sesame? As the image above reminds us, the US does not yet consider sesame an allergen, although it does seem to be moving towards changing the ‘big 8’ to the ‘big 9’ a move long considered overdue by many in the food allergy community.

At the end of 2018, the US Food and Drug Administration formally investigated the possibility by inviting comments on sesame as an allergen from researchers and consumers.

At present, while ingredients must be declared, sesame could in theory ‘hide’ behind an ingredient such as ‘seasoning’ or ‘flavouring’ or under an unusual or foreign alternative name.

According to reports, the FDA is still considering the information it received, but with 1.5 million in the US thought to have a sesame allergy, many are hoping that a decision to fall into step with neighbours Canada, as well as the EU, will soon follow.


Have you found any unusual food allergens or food allergy regulations in other countries across the world? Do leave a comment if so, and I’ll look into it for a future post. 

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