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Food Allergies and Intolerances

The difference between food allergy and food intolerance

Food allergy and food intolerance are both types of food sensitivities that result in physical responses to consuming a food containing these component(s).

A food allergy results in an immune system reaction causing the rapid development of symptoms, such as itchiness, rash and swelling. Occasionally an individuals physical reaction can be so severe it can trigger a life-threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. The eight most common food allergens are:
• Crustaceans
• Eggs
• Fish
• Milk
• Peanuts
• Soybeans
• Tree nuts
• Sesame seeds

These allergens as well as gluten (from wheat, rye, barley, oats and their products) and sulphites (which are added to food as a preservative) are required by law to be declared on food labels.

Food intolerance although triggers an adverse reaction to a particular food, does not involve an immune system response. The symptoms associated with food intolerance include intestinal gas, abdominal pain or diarrhea, in some cases severe but are generally not life-threatening. The most common food intolerances are:
• Lactose
• Milk
• Food additives e.g. tartrazine, sulphites and benzoates

Food allergy = immune system reaction to a food
Food intolerance = inability to digest a food

Allergen and additive labelling and declarations

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) sets the labelling criteria for products containing food allergens, gluten and sulphite preservatives.

Any product containing allergens specified in Standard 1.2.3 of the Food Standards Code must be either:
• Declared on a label on packaged food, or
• Declared on, or in connection with, the display of food that is not required to be labelled, or
• Declared to the customer at the time of purchase if they ask.

This Standard applies to all food products sold in Australia including local and imported products. FSANZ has developed a User guide to Standard 1.2.3 to assist with understanding labelling requirements under this Standard.

The City’s Role

The role of the City of Nedlands is to assist food businesses and consumers in obtaining accurate information about the allergen status of food offered for sale, ensuring that food is safe to eat.

The City enforces the Food Act 2008 and the Food Standards Code, which requires all food businesses in WA to provide information about the most common allergens (crustaceans, eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, soybeans, tree nuts, and sesame seeds), gluten and sulphite in their food by either:
• Declaring allergens on the label (usually in the ingredient list)
• Displaying information about allergens next to food on sale (if it’s not packaged)
• Providing information about food allergens in food if requested by a customer

If a food business
• Doesn’t provide information;
• If an allergen is found in food undeclared;
• Advises a consumer that a food product did not contain that allergen; or
• If you suspect a food label does not adhere to the FSANZ guidelines;
please contact the City and report it.

The City will investigate suspected breaches and penalise noncompliance.

More information on food allergens

• Allergen Bureau – a centralised collection of information about food allergens, designed specifically for the food industry 
• Anaphylaxis Australia – a comprehensive website containing information on anaphylaxis for sufferers, the food industry, educators and health professionals
• Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) – website provides a list of allergy and clinical immunologists in Australia and New Zealand and resources for sufferers of anaphylaxis, educators and allied health professionals.
• Australian Food and Grocery Council – information for businesses that package or serve food/food products that contain or may contain allergens
• Be prepared, be allergy aware – A booklet produced by the NSW Food Authority and Anaphylaxis Australia, outlines requirements for food service businesses relating to declaring and managing allergens
• Coeliac Society – The Coeliac Society of Australia’s website provides information on coeliac disease, symptoms and diet
• Food Standards Australia New Zealand – food labelling requirements, recall alerts, allergen portal and resources for industry, consumers and government on allergy management
• Health Direct – links to information about food hypersensitivities and allergies
• Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Allergy Unit – provides information and resources for consumers and health care providers
• WA Department of Health – information on allergen declarations for food businesses