If you’ve gone shopping in any Australian supermarket, you’ll notice that nearly all packaging on food products has clearly outlined the possibility of any allergens present in its ingredients. Or if you’ve dined anywhere in Melbourne, the culinary capital of the country, more often than not there are alternative options available for people with allergies and specific dietary requirements. The staff is well-trained to prevent potentially harmful situations with food. But did you know that this heightened awareness of food allergies in Australia has come about as a result of it being the allergy capital of the world?
A paper published in the Journal of AOAC International on food allergen management in Australia found that the prevalence rate of food allergies in Australia, particularly in Melbourne, was one of the highest in the world, higher than both the United States and the United Kingdom. More than ten percent of 12-month old infants have a proven antibody-mediated allergic reaction. Hospitalisation rates for food allergies in Australia are particularly high, with a fourfold increase in cases of anaphylaxis in the last 14 years.
What are the most common food allergies in Australia?
Due to the widespread prevalence of allergic reactions, research on allergies has become a priority for Australian scientists. This will help develop a better understanding of the increasing trend, develop better investigative methods, and help improve existing industry standards to monitor the presence of allergens. This heightened awareness has led to the development of technology that allows close monitoring of allergic reactions, like the InflaMed app.
- Tree nuts: One of the most prevalent allergies is caused by tree nuts, including cashews, pine, and the native macadamia and bunya nuts. The ongoing HealthNuts study places special emphasis on these nut allergies, monitoring 5300 children from 1 to 10 years of age aiming to generate an objective view of allergies in Australia.
- Seafood: Fish and shellfish allergies are examined with specific interest by Australian researchers for many reasons. Australia, like the rest of Oceania, consumes a much larger amount of seafood than most other countries, and the native species differ greatly from those found in oceans elsewhere. Approximately 1% of Australia’s population has been found to develop a seafood allergy within their lifetime.
- Legumes: Legumes are also a common offender. Peanut and soybean allergies have been known about for many years, but lupin allergies have become a more recent addition in Australia. It is the largest producer of lupin in the world, contributing to 75-80% of the global supply.
- Gluten: While coeliac disease – characterised by an intolerance to gluten consumption, not to be confused with wheat allergy – is not classified as an antibody-mediated allergic reaction, it is still subject to the same research methods as all other food allergies in Australia and regulated accordingly by the Food Standards Code, along with dairy and egg products.
It must be noted that research on, and exposure to, food allergies in Australia is very different to that of the northern hemisphere. So keep this in mind when you dine or buy food products in the US or UK, as their data for allergen identification may be different.
How are food allergies in Australia regulated?
The Food Standards Code sets out regulations for the labelling of all of the above-mentioned allergens, for food produced in or for sale in Australia and New Zealand, along with any sulphites that may be present. This also extends to the description of foods in restaurants and cafes, where dietary requirements must be labelled clearly in English. These standards also ensure that claims such as ‘gluten free’ are properly verified; that any products with this label must not contain any detectable traces of gluten or oat products.
However, exemptions to these labels also apply. For example, beer and other spirits that are distilled from cereals or whey may not have mandatory allergen information. Highly refined glucose syrups and soybean oils that do not exceed a gluten content of 20 mg per kg may also be exempt from declaration. The language used in the labelling of allergens can also be confusing. While an egg allergy can be specific to certain egg components, like egg yolk or albumin, packaged foods often use catchall terms such as ‘contains egg’.
Because of these risks of misleading consumers, the Food Standards Code (under Australian Consumer Law) enforces strict compliance with allergen labelling, and conducts regular surveys of food manufacturers including testing of samples. However, challenges still remain when it comes to foods imported from abroad that do not comply with Australian labelling standards. It is recommended to be watchful and do prior research when purchasing food with insufficient labelling.
How InflaMed can help keep your allergies in check
If you live in Australia, especially in Melbourne, this information may be concerning especially if you suffer from a known allergy. Thankfully, there are ways to effectively keep your allergy symptoms in check and track and monitor allergy progression.
InflaMed is an easy to use app that will help you keep your inflammation under control. You can integrate your prior test results for food allergies in Australia, as well as track your symptoms in relation to various triggers including food. The app can highlight your confirmed trigger allergens as another line of defence when living with these debilitating chronic conditions.
Download InflaMed from the Apple Store, and take control of your inflammation today.
 ‘Food Allergen Management in Australia’, Various Authors, Journal of AOAC INTERNATIONAL, vol. 101, no. 1, pp. 60-69 (2018).
 ‘HealthNuts’, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute. <https://www.mcri.edu.au/research/projects/healthnuts>
 ‘Allergic and Toxic Reactions to Seafood’, ASCIA. <https://www.allergy.org.au/patients/food-allergy/allergic-and-toxic-reactions-to-seafood>