FSA - Active on allergy

Deep in the corridors of Whitehall (well, in the hallways of Holborn actually...) the Foods Standards Agency allergy division has been pretty busy.

Eating out with an allergy
Their website now carries a lengthy and very helpful section on eating out with an allergy – lots of very useful advice on how to approach the staff and the questions to ask plus some ‘chef cards’ that you can download, print and fill in with your own details. See www.eatwell.gov.uk

Allergy training
But, you will be glad to hear, that your allergy care is not being left totally in your own hands. The agency has also developed an allergy training module for those working in the industry. This particular package has been developed for enforcement officers (Trading Standards etc) but would be equally appropriate for anyone looking to manufacture ‘free-from’ foods. It is well put together, easy to follow, comprehensive, includes downloadable posters for use in your kitchen or factory – and it is free! Check allergytraining.food.gov.uk

‘Gluten free’
The agency has also been part of immensely protracted Europe wide negotiations over the revision of the codex standard for gluten-free products. These have stood at 200 parts (of gluten) per million (parts of the food being tested) since 1983 although this has long been regarded as much too high and many manufacturers of gluten-free food have been aiming for a much lower level for some time. The final decision is for a two-part, and therefore more flexible, standard:

• As of 2007 all cereals containing gluten and any products derived from these cereals (apart from specific exemptions such as glucose syrups and maltodextrin) have to declare gluten in the ingredients list.

• In July 2008 the new Codex standard was agreed: foods can be labelled as ‘gluten free’ provided that they contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten.

• Foods which contain between 21 and 100 ppm of gluten may be labelled ‘very low gluten’ although the decision on the specifics of this labelling may be taken at national level.

• It is also permitted to label ‘ordinary’ foods that you would not expect to contain any gluten as ‘gluten free’ provided that they contain less than 20ppm of gluten. The idea of this is to help the consumer identify gluten-free foods although whether it opens the door to absurdities such as apples being labelled ‘gluten free’ we shall have to see.

• The regulations came into force in January 2009 but manufacturers will have three years in which to comply and to reduce the levels of gluten in their products below the 20 ppm threshold.

For more information call Sarah Hardy at the FSA on 020 7276 8532 or email her at sarah.hardy@foodstandards.gsi.gov.uk


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