Updated 05 November 2015

Latex food threat - all hype?

About one-third of the UK's food packaging has been found to contain hidden latex, causing concern that allergens may be transferred to food creating a potential health risk.


The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) is pushing ahead with product testing methods after scientists found new ways to detect latex allergens in food packaging.

The media and consumer groups went into frenzy, leading to calls for processors to note the presence of the known allergen on their products.

However, one group is insisting that the media and consumer groups have it all wrong.

Severe problem or not?

The Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IoM) have released their analysis of the original Leatherhead Food International research, which is casting into doubt the severity of the situation.

In a statement from IoM spokesperson Zoe Chiverton, the group insisted that Leatherhead’s research was a successful attempt at establishing a means to test for latex allergens in food products, but that the findings were inconclusive as to whether there are currently any potential risks.

“[Leatherhead Research] shows that four particular latex proteins, known to cause allergic reactions, can be extracted from certain food contact materials,” said IoM. “And that there may be a possibility of latex proteins transferring to foodstuffs.”

The Leatherhead report also noted that there was no certainty that latex allergens detected in the process were due to packaging or natural food ingredients, such as certain fruits, that are known to contain similar proteins as latex.

Products deliberately chosen

Furthermore, the Leatherback standard of testing for latex allergens was conducted on products that were deliberately chosen for the likelihood that they contained latex materials, claimed the IoM who compiled their response with the aid of the Tun Abdul Razak Research Centre.

Perhaps the most discouraging find by Leatherhead is that one unnamed chocolate biscuit had 20 times the level of latex that instigates an allergic reaction.

The IoM found that this statistic was based on the reaction level of allergen protein Hev b7, which was not actually one of the four proteins isolated in the Leatherhead test.

There is no agreement on a safe level of latex, but it has been reported that a billionth of a gram (1ng/ml) can be enough to cause a reaction. Currently, manufacturers are not required to label food packaging as containing latex.

Too early to draw conclusions

A spokesperson for the FSA told the BBC last week that it was too early to draw conclusions on whether latex should be noted on food labelling, and that research would be ongoing.

"The FSA advises consumers not to change what they eat or how they prepare it, as it is not clear that there actually is a transfer of allergens from latex to food outside the laboratory," the regulator stated.

Between one and six percent of the population suffers from latex allergies. Latex is used in many food packaging materials, including rubber bands, meat netting, stickers found on some fruit and vegetables and the adhesive used for cold sealing of confectionary.

The original Leatherhead findings were released in Chemistry and Industry magazine, which is published by the Society of Chemical Industry. - (Decision News Media, August 2006)

Read more:

Sources of latex exposure

Are your allergies out of control?


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