Food labels failing allergy victims

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 May, 2007, 12:00am

Producers are still failing to provide accurate lists of ingredients to warn consumers their products may contain traces of nuts that can trigger potentially deadly allergic reactions, despite having almost three years to introduce new packaging, the Consumer Council said yesterday.

Tests by the Centre for Food Safety of a selection of snacks have found close to half contained traces of peanuts, almonds and hazelnuts not marked on the ingredients list.

Nuts can cause serious allergic reactions for between 1 and 5 per cent of the population.

The tests were carried out in conjunction with the Consumer Council and found 18 out of 53 samples of biscuits, cakes, chocolates and ice creams contained traces of nuts.

Samuel Yeung Tze-kiu, principal medical officer at the Centre for Food Safety, said even a slight trace of nuts was enough to bring on severe symptoms in those who suffered from the nut allergy. Symptoms include itchy skin, vomiting, breathing problems, diarrhoea, a drop in blood pressure and even death in some cases.

A law introduced on July 9, 2004, gave manufacturers a grace period of three years to properly list all their ingredients.

Those who fail to comply by July 9 this year will face a HK$50,000 fine and six months' jail.

Dr Yeung warned producers who fail to meet the guidelines will be punished and said officers would conduct tests once the grace period ended on July 9.

'If a producer has taken all necessary steps but is still not sure if their products contain nuts, they should consider sticking a label on the product saying they do,' he said.

Specialist in immunology and allergies Adrian Wu Young-yuen said the government needed to step up regulations warning consumers suffering from allergies what was in the food they were eating.

Dr Wu said about 5 per cent of children and 2 per cent of adults had food allergies. The most common for children are milk, eggs and peanuts. For adults, the most serious are seafood and peanuts.

Children can outgrow allergies and may need to be tested every few years to see whether or not the allergy remains.

The legislation introduced in 2004 also requires producers to label a number of other allergens on products. These include gluten, crustacean and fish products, eggs, soybeans and milk.

Meanwhile, the council also yesterday revealed a surge in complaints against pay television providers.

The number of complaints increased to 867 in the first three months of the year from 735 last year, a jump of 18 per cent.

Most consumers complained about no network coverage when they moved addresses, renewal of contracts without notification, and dodgy sales tactics.