The study, undertaken by researchers at the Thailand-based Institute of Food Research and Product Development, investigated the presence of undeclared allergens – namely milk, egg, wheat and peanut – in commercial processed food products in Thailand.
The study results revealed that out of 142 commercial products, 55 were found by quantitative ELISA method to contain an undeclared allergen greater than 10 parts per million (ppm).
Levie Cequena, food and health policy manager for food consultancy EAS Asia, said that such studies should not be taken lightly especially as food products form such big part of the Thai economy, especially in the export sector.
“The country is a major producer and exporter of processed food products and the food industry is a targeted industry by the Ministry of Industry,” she said.
Cequena said Thai standards adhere to international standards such as Codex, OIE Standards and the International Plant Protection Convention, and food manufacturers should adhere to them.
Quality assurance systems such as GMP, Total Quality Management, HACCP, and the International Organization for Standardization are mandatory for certain products, including canned foods, she added.
“However, if true, Thai manufacturers should indicate the presence of allergens on the product labels, again as one way to ensure global competitiveness of their products,” said Cequena.
Cequena pointed out that while there is no specific allergen labelling regulation in Thailand, the Thai Food and Drug Administration has earlier issued guidance on food allergen labelling.
“This guidance provides that manufacturers should have statements in Thai language if their food products contain pollen, royal jelly, or fish oil,” she added.
As an example, products containing royal jelly must bear the statement “should not be taken by asthmatic or allergic people because it might cause severe allergy” on the label, Cequena explained.
Among all positive products, undeclared milk appeared the most frequently with 21 cases, followed by egg and wheat with a similar frequency of 17 cases, while peanut was rarely found.
The researchers indicated that milk and egg positive products were further confirmed by the presence of the milk protein, casein, or the egg protein, ovalbumin, by Western blot tests.
Among 21 milk-positive cases, the product group appearing most frequently was instant noodles (7 cases), followed by curry (5 cases) and salad dressing (3 cases). Food products found to contain milk greater than 1,000 ppm were curry, dessert mix and snacks, the study revealed.
The major food group with undeclared egg was found to be fishery products such as fish balls, fried fish cake, chikuwa, fish tofu, tuna spread, vegetarian canned tuna, crab stick and breaded surimi.
The highest undeclared egg content was found at a level of 35,250 ppm in vegetarian canned tuna, followed by fish tofu and instant wheat noodles, which contained 15,750 and 10,718 ppm egg.
Of the 17 wheat-positive cases detected, five products contained high undeclared wheat allergen in a range of 14,250–174,000 ppm, the study said.
The highest level was found in Thai noodles for curry products, and then fish ball products.