How to recognise and declare allergenic ingredients - An interview with Prof Dr med Barbara Ballmer-Weber, Member of the Medical Advisory Board of Service Allergie Suisse
The new Regulations of the Federal Department of Home Affairs (FDHA) on the labelling and promotion of foodstuffs have been in force since January 1, 2014. Every allergenic ingredient must accordingly be made obvious and declared clearly for consumers. The Swiss Allergy Seal of Quality builds on these principles and goes one step further. Thanks to its own, industry-specific regulations it ensures that there is an additional added benefit in terms of safety and information compared to the legal regulations. The fact that checking the ingredients in foodstuffs is a real challenge is demonstrated by a look at the work of Prof Dr med Ballmer-Weber.
Prof Ballmer-Weber, what is your approach when examining formulations for allergenic ingredients?
First, I read through the entire documentation that has been sent to me. Then, I check whether the new product to be evaluated complies with the requirements of Service Allergie Suisse's specific regulations and how this is guaranteed. It is vital that the documentation I am sent is complete, as only then can the product's quality be assessed in terms of its safety for allergy sufferers. What is important is the highest possible degree of reliability in relation to a product for allergy sufferers. Likewise, I pay attention to the intended claims and, if already available, to the packaging template. Furthermore, I also check whether there is a risk of cross-contamination due to the product's production methods or its formulation, and, if applicable, how this fact is communicated.
Has there ever been a formulation that presented a real challenge for you?
Challenges always occur when the manufacturer's supporting paperwork or documentation in particular is incomplete or insufficient. One case, however, has stuck in my memory, as it dealt with a gluten-free product. In the literature, there were different statements about an ingredient's tolerability for patients with gluten intolerance and expert opinions also differed. Here, of course, I am faced with a challenge, as consumers assume that products with a Service Allergie Suisse certificate are particularly well-tolerated. In such cases, I tend to opt for the decision that is safest for patients, so that those affected can truly rely on the tolerability of the products certified by Service Allergie Suisse.
Have you ever had to reject a product and why?
Yes, that has certainly happened before. If it is not obvious from the documentation that the requirements have been fully met or if the situation is described in poor detail, then the product might not be safe. Therefore, it sometimes happens that the requirements need to be clarified with the manufacturer first.
The number of people affected by an allergy or intolerance is growing steadily. How do you rate the importance of the Swiss Allergy Label?
For a long time I did not hear anything about the Swiss Allergy Label from those affected. Nowadays, in our consultation sessions, we are approached predominantly by people with an intolerance who talk about the products and who are accordingly very grateful that the products exist. More and more people, whether affected or not, pay attention to their diet and exclude, for example gluten completely from their food choices. For consumers, the Swiss Allergy Label provides important guidance. Patients feel well informed, especially thanks to the additional information on the packaging, and they rely on the declaration of conformity.
What advice would you give sufferers, when they have to resort to an uncertified product?
Basically, every manufacturer is legally obliged to declare their ingredients and consequently allergens precisely. Nevertheless, it can sometimes happen that products become contaminated. I therefore advise allergy sufferers to consume only a small amount of such a product, if they have any doubts. If a patient feels an itchiness in the mouth or throat only a short time later, it would be better if they did not consume that particular food. For people with an intolerance, a contaminated product can also have an effect, but these effects are not immediately life-threatening.
Prof Ballmer-Weber, we would like to thank you very much for your very important work and for taking the time to give us a brief insight into your exciting role.
Prof Ballmer-Weber is Head Physician of the Allergy Unit of the Unit Dermatology, Venereology and Allergy at the cantonal hospital of St. Gallen. She is a member of the medical advisory board of Service Allergie Suisse. Within this framework, she checks the recipes of the products to be certified for their added value for people with food allergies or intolerances.