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Allergen survey (No 7)

Evaluation Report Series No. 7

February 2004

The survey was designed to assess the understanding and use of food label information in food selection decisions made by the main grocery buyer in a household when shopping for foods for consumption by those who are ‘at risk’ of adverse or allergic reactions to food.

Executive Summary

The Quantitative Consumer Survey on Allergen Labelling provides baseline data on consumers’:

  • levels of awareness and knowledge of the allergen labelling provisions for manufactured foods;
  • ability to successfully identify foods containing pertinent allergens; and
  • behaviours towards food selection for those ‘at risk’ of adverse reactions to food.

The survey was designed to assess the understanding and use of food label information in food selection decisions made by the main grocery buyer in a household when shopping for foods for consumption by those who are ‘at risk’ of adverse or allergic reactions to food. A targeted sample was obtained that was not intended to be necessarily representative of gender, age, education, or ethnicity of the general populations of Australia and New Zealand, or of the ‘at risk’ population themselves. For example, the higher population of female respondents reflects the current predominance of women as household managers and carers (SNZ 2001 1 ; ABS 1995).

The data obtained from this survey will be used by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) to assess how well the new allergen labelling standard is working in the two countries. This benchmark survey will also assist FSANZ through a future evaluation, to track whether allergen labelling requirements meet the stated objective of providing adequate information relating to food to enable consumers to make an informed decision.

Background

The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (‘the Code’) became fully enforceable from December 2002 after a two year transition period. It included new labelling requirements for manufactured foods sold in Australia and New Zealand. One of the requirements was that food labels are required to provide advice for consumers on the presence of certain substances in food. This can be in the form of mandatory warning statements; mandatory advisory statements; or mandatory declarations. These requirements apply when any of the substances listed in Standard 1.2.3 Mandatory Warning and Advisory Statements and Declarations are present in food as an ingredient, an ingredient of a compound ingredient, a food additive or component of a food additive, or a processing aid or a component of a processing aid (FSANZ 20021).

The mandatory declarations, warning statements and advisory statements are intended to provide consumers with sufficient information such that they could prevent adverse/allergic reactions to a food or an ingredient in food.

Another requirement was that the source of cereals and starch (e.g. wheat, rye, barley, oats) be declared on a food label, as is the source of vegetable oils if derived from peanut, soybean or sesame (Standard 1.2.4 Labelling of Ingredients). The food labelling standards contained in the Code cover both locally produced and foods imported into Australia and New Zealand.

The survey

The survey focussed on a selection of substances listed in Standard 1.2.3 Mandatory Warning and Advisory Statements and Declarations. These were wheat (gluten containing cereals and their products); eggs and egg products; fish and fish products; milk and milk products; nuts and sesame seeds (including their products); peanuts and soybeans (including their products) and added sulphites (in concentrations of 10mg/kg or more) (FSANZ 20021).

In this survey, a broad definition of food allergy was adopted by FSANZ to target households with members who were ‘at risk’ of adverse reactions to foods, thereby obtaining a wider cross-section of respondents who may be assessing food labels critically because of concerns about the presence of allergens. ‘Food allergy’ in this survey meant ‘a reaction due to exposure to a food or ingredient in food resulting in at least one of the following symptoms: difficulty in breathing or throat swelling; swelling or itching of lips or tongue; hives, skin rashes or eczema; stomach cramps, vomiting or diarrhoea; or faintness or collapse’. While this includes anaphylactic reactions to food, it is a wider definition.

It should be noted that this survey was not intended to measure the prevalence of food allergies in Australia or New Zealand, or to assess the consistency of food labels with allergen labelling requirements of the Code.

At the time of this survey (immediately after the end of the transition period), foods were still legally available for sale that had been manufactured and labelled according to the old food standards.

Download the full report [pdf 1609 kb]

Download the Appendix [pdf 738 kb ]

Appendices

[ pdf 738 kb ]

Appendix A: [ pdf 292 kb ]

Methodology Report

Appendix B:[pdf 462 kb ]

1. New Zealand Questionnaire
2. New Zealand Information Letter
3. New Zealand Consent Form

Appendix C: [ pdf 447 kb ]

1. Australian Questionnaire
2. Australian Information Letter
3. Australian Consent Form

Appendix D: [ pdf 181 kb ]

Recruitment Criteria

 

Full Report [pdf 1609 kb]


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