Latex used in one-third of food packaging, study finds

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food packaging, Asthma

About one-third of the UK's food packaging has been found to
contain hidden latex, leading to calls for processors to note the
presence of the known allergen on their products.

The latex was transferred to food in some cases, according to the study by Leatherhead Food International. In one unnamed chocolate biscuit, the amount of latex found was 20 times the level that instigates an allergic reaction. The study was funded by the UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA).

A group of experts from an advisory panel the UK Latex Allergy Support Group (LASG) said that these results were significant, according to a report on the study by the Society of Chemical Industry.

"For a few people, natural rubber latex is a very potent allergen and for these individuals, there is no safe level of exposure,"​ LASG representative Graham Lowe told Chemistry and Industry magazine. "We would welcome an approach to the EU to consider this evidence and the issue of labelling."

Lowe told the association's journal that that latex transfer to food could account for some currently "inexplicable" reactions.

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, the magazine said. Currently manufacturers are not required to label food packaging as containing latex.

Scientists at Leatherhead measured the presence of four major latex allergens in 21 types of food packaging for confectionary, fruit and vegetable produce, meat, pastry and dairy products.

A third of the samples gave positive results for the presence of latex and in some cases this was transferred onto the food, according to the study, reported in Chemistry and Industry magazine.

The highest levels of latex allergens were found in a chocolate biscuit containing nearly 20ng/ml. The wrapper contained 85ng/ml of latex. The highest levels in packaging was detected in ice cream wrappers, with over 370ng/ml found in one sample. The ice cream itself contained around 14ng/ml.

One company admitted spraying whole wrappers with latex adhesive, so that they could be sealed with minimum wastage, the study found.

A spokesperson for the FSA told the magazine that it was too early to draw conclusions on whether latex should be noted on food labelling.

"Advisory labeling should only be used when, following a thorough risk assessment, there is a real risk of allergic reactions,"​ the regulator stated.

The Leatherhead study is the first attempt to quantify the latex allergens present in food contact materials and also in foods.

About one to six per cent of the British population suffer 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.

Chemistry and Industry magazine is published by the Society of Chemical Industry.

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