Food allergy now affects 1 in 10 infants and 2 in 100 adults in Australia - we have one of the highest allergy prevalence rates in the world.
Understanding allergen labelling is essential to good allergy management.
It's essential to carefully check food labels before purchasing if you have a food allergy or intolerance, or you are shopping for someone who does.
Australian food labelling laws state the 9 most common allergens and sulphite preservatives (in concentrations of 10mgkg or more) must always appear on packaging or in connection with the display. They must be listed in the ingredients, or on a separate statement on or near the food.
The 9 most common food allergens are:
- tree nuts
- sesame seeds
These allergens are not always easy to find on labels. Other words may be used, eg. a milk product may be referred to as 'casein', 'hydrolysed whey' or 'lacto acidophilus'.
Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia has produced allergen ingredient cards that list the ingredients you should avoid if you are allergic to crustaceans, eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, soybeans, tree nuts, sesame seeds, and gluten, as well as lupin. To order these cards, contact 1300 728 000.
If a food contains an ingredient, or components of an ingredient that can cause a severe adverse reaction then it must be declared on the label no matter how small the amount. This declaration usually appears in the ingredient list in one of the below formats:
|In brackets||In bold||In a separate declaration|
|wheat flour, sugar, margarine (contains milk), salt, flavour (contains wheat starch)||wheat flour||Contains wheat and milk|
All warning statements must be clearly visible on packaging. Products containing Royal Jelly must have a warning statement on the label and separate statements must also visible for the following ingredients:
- Aspartame – ‘contains phenylalanine’
- Added caffeine in cola drinks – ‘contains caffeine’
- Guarana – ‘contains caffeine’
- Quinine – ‘contains quinine’
- Unpasteurised egg and milk products – ‘unpasteurised’
'May contain' warnings
Some food labels say 'may contain' certain allergens to show that the product may inadvertently contain foods that people are commonly allergic to, eg. ‘may contain traces of nuts’. This means that even if nuts aren’t deliberately included as ingredients in the food, the manufacturer cannot be sure the food doesn’t accidentally contain small amounts of them. If you are allergic to any of the ingredients mentioned in these warnings you should avoid them.
- Check the ingredients every time you buy a product – the recipe may have changed since the last time you bought it
- You can call food manufacturers and ask about ingredients or manufacturing processes if you are unsure about a product.
What should I do if I think a food has been incorrectly labelled?
If you think a food has been incorrectly labelled or that an allergen has not been declared properly on packaged food, phone the Food Authority's helpline on 1300 552 406. The Food Authority has powers under the Food Act 2003 (NSW) and the Food Standards Code to investigate labelling complaints and take action against food businesses breaking the law.
Food not pre-packaged or labelled
Food that isn't pre-packaged or labelled includes items sold from the bakery, butcher, deli counter, salad bar, or food weighed and sold loose. It also includes meals served in restaurants, cafés, takeaways and other eating-out venues
It's possible unpackaged food may contain small amounts of allergens in the ingredients or they could have accidentally got into one of these products, eg. from being next to another food, from a knife or spoon, or from being wrapped in a bag that has touched another food containing an allergen. If you have a severe food allergy, you should always disclose your allergy clearly, ask about ingredients and never make presumptions about food content. You should always have your emergency medication with you.
Eating a meal from a restaurant, café or takeaway can be stressful if you have a food allergy or intolerance. When food is prepared by someone else you can’t be absolutely sure that it is free of allergens, so you need to ask the service staff for relevant allergen information. For more information on eating out with allergies, see Eating out tips on our Allergies and intolerances page.
- All consumers in NSW are legally entitled to ask for information about the allergen content of foods for sale that are not pre-packaged or labelled.