Posted by Vicky on | March 4, 2012 | No Comments
May, 39, has a story to share. Smartly dressed and chatty, she is the picture of the modern mother. Her family settled into life in Singapore just over two years ago. May and her French husband have one child, a daughter called Annie who is 10 years old.
Annie is just like many 10 year olds, she enjoys shopping, playing with her friends and going to school – she does have one difference to many of them though – Annie has severe food allergies.
Annie has anaphylaxis to cow’s milk and egg, as well as other food allergies. Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction that can affect blood pressure and breathing; symptoms tend to come on very quickly and may cause death. It is a condition not to be taken lightly. Food allergies are on the increase across the globe, and it is estimated that around 3-4% of the world’s population has a food allergy.
May has learnt over the years, and after two near fatal incidents, to always err on the side of caution when it comes to managing her daughter’s food allergies. It is not an easy task though and as May states “I can’t rely on anyone else”. The pain of dealing with her daughter’s food allergies is apparent while she talks, not only does May carry a lot of guilt with regards to her daughter’s allergies, she also feels responsible with each serious reaction that her daughter has had. The impact of Annie’s food allergies is something that rests very heavily on her shoulders.
As an allergy parent May stresses the importance of label reading and of the need to “pay attention before any food is given to her daughter and to any child with food allergies”.
May’s daughter had a severe reaction to a drink that according to the packaging is “100% pure orange juice”. It was not 100% pure, the orange juice contained milk solids. Even after giving the carton label a mandatory check before handing her daughter a glass of the juice, May did not initially see that it contained milk solids. With no highlighted allergen labeling this information was not obvious to spot – nor is milk solids in a fruit juice an obvious inclusion.
Dr Liew, a pediatric allergy specialist from The Baby & Child Clinic at Gleneagles states, “For patients with a history of food anaphylaxis, it is critical that the patient avoids the food and byproducts strictly. Accidental exposures, even to a minute amount of the food may cause severe reactions or even death. Whilst Singapore is fortunate not to have a case of food anaphylaxis fatality to date, we should not be complacent”.
When shopping for orange juice, checking for the inclusion of milk solids is not something that comes to mind. There are countless food and beverage items that contain milk solids, none of which are initially associated with milk solids. Milk solids are contained in lemon barley drinks, potato chips (crisps to some!), gummy sweets, even in toiletries like children’s toothpaste. The list goes on and on.
However as Annie’s latest incident highlights, even with the best of intentions mistakes can happen. Diligence is something that May does not lack, but when living in a country that does not have clear food labeling in terms of listed allergens, May has found Singapore challenging. For May it is especially challenging as English is not her first language and the food labels are not clear to read when looking for allergen information.
The issue with food labeling in Singapore is that although there are very positive changes that will be happening come April 2012, these changes to the food labeling are simply not enough. The top eight food allergens as defined by the AVA will have to be mentioned on the labels under The Amended Sale Of Food Act – however, they will not be listed under any allergen heading, nor do the allergens need to be highlighted in any way. The new food labeling will not cover “may contain”, and therefore where and how the food is processed.
If the food labeling here in Singapore and across the globe were uniform, it would be an easy task for people with food allergies to shop.
Food labeling is important, as is consumer safety. The two should go hand in hand. Consumers here should be able to have confidence that the products they buy are safe for those with specific food allergies. “For allergy information, clear labeling is needed” stresses May. Yes, that pretty much sums it up.
*Names have been changed by request.