Swiss Allergy Label: A Special Certification for Allergen-Free Products

aha! label soy yogurt

When food products contain (or may contain) potential allergens, federal laws in Switzerland require that companies clearly disclose this information on food labels. In comparison, when a company wants to disclose that its products are free from these same allergens, Switzerland has a private certification process overseen by Service Allergie Suisse.

Over time, I’ve noticed this label on several food products we routinely purchase for my son and wanted to know more about it. Here are the questions I had about the Swiss Allergy Label and the answers I found, based on information obtained from the Service Allergie Suisse website and an email I received from this agency in August 2014.

Please note: The information shown below, particularly the number of certified products and the companies that produce them, is meant to provide a snapshot of this program at a particular period of time. For the most current information, you can visit the Service Allergie Suisse website or subscribe to its News Service.


When did the Swiss Allergy Label start?

The Swiss Allergy Label program was started in 2006 by Service Allergie Suisse, a private independent agency based in Bern.


What is the purpose of the Swiss Allergy Label?

The focus of Service Allergie Suisse is on “consumer goods and services that are produced, labeled and sold with particular consideration given to allergy and intolerance problems.”

According to the email I received from Service Allergie Suisse, three independent authorities evaluate every product being considered for this allergen-free certification. For food products in particular, companies must also demonstrate that they have systems in place for quality control and allergen management. Finally, there are regular re-audits to ensure ongoing compliance.


How many products have earned the Swiss Allergy Label?

On January 13, 2015, I found 173 products listed on the Service Allergie Suisse website, as shown below.

Table: Number of products with the Swiss Allergy Label by category

Product category Number of products
Food  84
Cosmetics  46
Textiles  24
Household appliances  8
Washing and cleaning agents  8
Technical products (e.g., air filters)  3
Medical products  0
Total  173

Source: Obtained from the Service Allergie Suisse website on January 13, 2015; http://www.service-allergie-suisse.ch/257/product-categories/?oid=1464&lang=en.


Which companies have products with the Swiss Allergy Label?

Currently, the 14 companies listed below have products that have earned the Swiss Allergy Label:

In terms of food products, the vast majority of these products are sold by Migros. Based on my search, it appears that Coop has fewer than 10 food products from its own “Free From” line that have been certified by Service Allergie Suisse.


What services have been certified with the Swiss Allergy Label?

In addition to certifying products, the Swiss Allergy Label can also be applied to services, including catering and gastronomy. At this time, two companies have been certified for such services: (1) Menu and More for catering and (2) Migros for gastronomy. Menu and More is active in catering meals for children and adolescents, according to the email I received from Service Allergie Suisse. Since October 2014, Migros has expanded it range of certified products, and you can find these products in dozens of its locations (click here for the complete list).

For more information about the requirements for restaurants to receive this certification, please review this summary document from Service Allergie Suisse.


Are you familiar with the Swiss Allergy Label? Do you have products in your home certified under this program? I’m interested in any feedback you may have about this program, so please leave a comment below if you have something to share. Many thanks!

Updated: January 15, 2015

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New Requirements for Food Allergen Labeling in Switzerland

In the coming year, you will start seeing some changes in how food allergens are labeled in Switzerland. For people living with food allergies and intolerlances, for whom label-reading is a daily activity, here’s a quick summary of the new federal requirements.

Food labels allergens scottish oat cakes

Food allergen labeling on a package of Scottish Oatcakes from Northern Ireland (and in braille)


What is the purpose of the new Swiss labeling requirements for food allergens?

On November 25, 2013, the Swiss Department of the Interior and the Federal Office of Public Health revised the federal ordinance concerning the labeling of food allergens: Ordonnance du DFI sur l’étiquetage et la publicité des denrées alimentaires (817.022.21). These revisions mean that food labels must clearly indicate 14 common allergens by using a special font, character style (e.g., capitalized letters), background color or other appropriate means. Even though Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, these revisions are consistent with the requirements of Article 21 under the EU Labeling Directive.


When will these new requirements become effective?

The revised ordinance came into effect on January 1, 2014, but there is a 2-year transitional period. Companies have until December 31, 2015 to become fully compliant with the new requirements, or until they exhaust their inventories of food products that comply with the previous ordinance (see Chapitre 6: Dispositions finales, 817.022.21). As such, it’s possible you may still see products in 2016 that don’t meet the new requirements, but still can legally be sold to consumers.


What potential allergens must be labeled on food products in Switzerland?

There are currently 14 common allergens that must be identified on food labels in Switzerland. Please note: The 2013 revisions to the ordinance for labeling food allergens did not make any changes to this list.

  • Celery

  • Crustacean shellfish (i.e., crab, lobster, and shrimp)

  • Eggs

  • Fish

  • Gluten (i.e., wheat, rye, barley, oats and spelt)*

  • Lupine

  • Milk

  • Mollusks (i.e., oysters, clams, mussels, or scallops)

  • Mustard

  • Peanuts

  • Sesame (FYI: There’s a new petition to include sesame among the required allergens for food labels in the United States).

  • Soybeans

  • Sulphur dioxide or sulphites

  • Tree nuts

*Please note: The category of “gluten” includes wheat, which is considered one of the “Top 8” allergens in the United States.


How did the Swiss government make companies aware of the new requirements?

The Federation of Swiss Food Industries organized a “food legislation continuing training day” in 2014, according to written responses I received earlier this month from an official from the Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office (FSVO) at the Federal Department of Home Affairs. At this event, FSVO provided detailed information about the revised ordinance for labeling food products. In general, “companies are responsible for ensuring that their products conform to current legislation (self-monitoring).” At this time, FSVO does not have any information on the extent to which companies are currently complying with these new requirements.


Who is responsible for monitoring the labeling of food allergens in Switzerland?

In Switzerland, federal agencies do not have the responsibility for monitoring food products on the market, according to the written responses I received from an FSVO official. Instead, cantonal executive authorities fill this role: Contrôle des denrées alimentaires en Suisse. In particular, these cantonal agencies “are responsible for monitoring the conformity of food products that can be marketed without regulatory approval.” If you have questions or concerns about a particular product that may not be in compliance with the current regulations, you can contact these authorities for assistance.


Where can I learn more about the revised requirements for labeling food allergens in Switzerland?

For detailed information about these revisions in French, German and Italian, here are some helpful links from FSVO:

  • Revisions 2013

  • Communiqué de presse: Révision de la législation sur les denrées alimentaires : protéger la santé et éviter les tromperies (December 3, 2014)

  • Dossier de presse: Révision annuelle de la législation sur les denrées alimentaires—Les points forts de la révision (December 3, 2014)

 

In my opinion, it’s great seeing these new requirements for food labels in Switzerland and throughout the European Union. Anything that can help keep consumers safe, without creating an unnecessary burden on companies, seems like a welcome change.

Updated: January 15, 2015

aha! 2014 Awards and a Giveaway

On Wednesday, October 23, the aha! Allergiezentrum Schweiz (Swiss Allergy Center) held its 2014 awards ceremony at the Bern Stadttheater. I somehow snagged an invitation to this year’s event. The thoughtful staff members at aha! are often fielding my questions via email, and it was such a pleasure getting the chance to meet them all in person. I was also excited to learn about the people and projects receiving awards, as they represent some important new opportunities to increase awareness and improve the quality of life for children and adolescents living with food allergies in Switzerland.

Stadttheater Bern

Bern Stadttheater

Unfortunately for me, all the speeches and presentations during this event were in Swiss German, but I guess that’s to be expected on the other side of the Röstigraben! Thankfully, the French version of the written program and the PowerPoint presentations helped me to follow along. To learn about the award winners, aha! has information on its website in German and French. Three projects shared the grand prize this year, all with a particular focus on peanut allergy and anaphylaxis. Here’s my quick summary of the 2014 grand prize winners:

  • Angelica Dünner: Erdnussallergie und Anaphylaxie (Peanut Allergy and Anaphylaxis) is a nonprofit organization based in Zurich that provides information for people living with food allergies, which Ms. Dünner helped to create three years ago. In 2014, among other activities, Ms. Dunner obtained permission from Food Allergy Research & Education in the United States to translate into French and German two children’s books about Alexander, an elephant with a peanut allergy. You can purchase these books via the organization’s website. When my 3-year old starts school next year, I’m planning to order a copy for his new classroom. I’ve exchanged emails with Ms. Dünner several times in the last year or two, and I was delighted to finally meet her. Her group is doing important work in Switzerland, so please consider becoming a member today.

  • Dr. Alice Köhli: At the Universitäts-Kinderspital Zürich (University Children’s Hospital) in Zurich, Dr. Köhli is the head of the Allergologie department. She has been working in collaboration with Ms. Dünner to offer food allergy and anaphylaxis training for parents, teachers and other caregivers of children with food allergies. The purpose is to help prevent anaphylaxis and to teach people how to respond to severe allergic reactions, should they occur. To date, these workshops have only been offered in German.

  • Dr. Ferdinanda Pini-Züger: For the Canton of Zurich, Dr. Pini-Züger is the director of the Sektor Schulärztlicher Dienst (School Medical Sector). Also working with Ms. Dünner, Dr. Pini- Züger helped introduce informational sheets for parents and teachers on peanut and tree nuts allergies and anaphylaxis. She also helped to develop a legal agreement between parents and the school district on how to manage food allergies in the classroom, based on existing primary school law. According to aha!, this is the first time informational sheets on food allergies have been prepared by a school district and shared on their website. This project is of great interest to me, and working with aha!, I would like to develop a similar set of materials in French for my son’s school.
aha! awards 2014 2427x2517.40

The view from my seat before the aha! 2014 award ceremony

Congratulations again to the three deserving winners of the aha! 2014 award, and a special thanks to the generous aha! staff members for allowing me to attend the ceremony. I hope these projects can be replicated soon in other regions of Switzerland and in different languages, namely French and Italian. I will continue to follow their progress and share updates in the future.


A Peanut-Free and Tree Nut-Free Giveaway

Giveaway prize 3516x2463

You could win these products! Please read the instructions below.

Since peanut and tree nut allergies were a focus of this year’s aha! awards—and one of the kind organizers of the 2014 Food Allergy Bloggers Conference just sent me a complementary box of allergy-friendly products—I wanted to share some of these treats by trying my first-ever giveaway. Here are the details, if you’re interested in entering:

  • How to enter: Please leave a comment below with the answer to this question—What is your favorite allergy-friendly product?
  • Deadline: Saturday, November 8 at 12:00 PM (Swiss time). I will randomly select a winner and announce their name in a comment below on Monday, November 10.
  • What you win: I will send to you, wherever you are, a box of peanut-free and tree nut-free goodies, including:

Full Disclosure: As I mentioned, I received a complementary box of allergy-friendly products from the Food Allergy Blogger Conference. However, I did not receive any compensation from the Food Allergy Blogger Conference or from any of the product manufacturers listed above, nor I was expected to hold a giveaway via Dairy-Free Switzerland with these products. Any opinions expressed in this or other posts on Dairy-Free Switzerland are solely my own. The King Arthur Flour Golden Flax Meal is my contribution to the giveaway. As always, please read labels carefully to make sure these products do not contain any of your known allergens.

I hope you all had a wonderful (and safe) Halloween and an excellent weekend. Thanks in advance for those of you entering my giveaway, and good luck!

Peanut Allergy, Air Travel and Public Policy

A friend of mine was recently on a flight. Her son has a peanut allergy. Once she took her seat, she heard an announcement that flight attendants would not be serving peanuts or any other nuts because of a passenger with a food allergy on the flight. All passengers were asked to refrain from eating these products. Afterward, my friend noticed the person next to her opening a bag of trail mix full of nuts. Thankfully, her son wasn’t flying with her that day.

Would a federal law banning peanuts on all flights prevent incidents like these and keep passengers with food allergies safe? Peanut bans and peanut-free buffer zones have been suggested before, dating back to at least 1998, but none of the proposed accommodations for passengers with food allergies have been passed into law. As such, airlines lack consistent policies when it comes to flying with food allergies.

Congress has actually prohibited the US Department of Transportation (DOT) from making rules restricting the distribution of peanuts, unless a peer-reviewed scientific study finds that airborne peanut dust can cause a severe allergic reaction. To date, studies have been conducted, but none have found this link. Therefore, DOT currently has no authority to establish rules with regard to peanuts and airlines (see the infographic I prepared below; you can click on the image for an interactive version with links to the relevant federal laws and notices).

2015 Peanut Allergy and Air Travel

Allergic Living recently interviewed Dr. Matthew Greenhawt about flying with food allergies, after two high-profile cases in which airline passengers experienced severe allergic reactions while in-flight. According to this expert, five studies in the last 10 years have looked at airborne peanut dust. However, none of these studies seem to have found the evidence necessary to fulfill the Congressional mandate in Public Law 106-69.

“…it is highly unlikely for a passenger to inhale nut protein from someone consuming nuts a few rows in front of him/her. There is no evidence that has been able to show that such dust circulates.” —Dr. M. Greenhawt, Research Director, Food Allergy Center and Assistant Professor, Division of Allergy and Immunology, University of Michigan

While this current research should bring some comfort to people with peanut allergy, an open bag of peanuts or trail mix on a plane can be a scary thing, even though the risk may be very low. Also, the Congressional mandate for a peer-reviewed study only focuses on airborne peanut dust, but what about allergens that might linger and accumulate on surfaces within a plane, like tray tables or arm rests, an issue Dr. Greenhawt raised in his interview with Allergic Living. (That’s why Food Allergy Research & Education and others recommend passengers with food allergies wipe down their seat area on the plane.)

Weighing both the evidence and the concerns, why not ban peanuts from all flights? At the same time, we know that even in peanut-free classrooms, people still make mistakes and bring in unsafe foods. Would a peanut ban or peanut-free buffer zones provide a false sense of security? And, how should airlines handle other food allergies?

In my opinion, more consistent policies for all airlines on how to accommodate passengers with peanut or other severe allergies would be an improvement. What do you think? Please share your thoughts in a comment below.

Additional resources:

For a detailed comparison of the various allergy policies of 11 major airlines, Allergic Living has compiled a 4-page chart to help people understand what accommodations they can request and receive.

Finally, there are at least two online petitions related to food allergies and air travel. One of these petitions was started by Elizabeth Goldenberg who authors the Onespot Allergy Blog. Her petition supports a total ban on peanuts. It’s earned over 15,000 signatures. Lianne Mandelbaum authored the second petition I came across last week, and it requires airlines to institute an allergen-free buffer zone for passengers with food allergies. To date, this second petition has earned over 30,000 signatures.

Update: I made revisions to the inforgraphic above on January 19, 2015 to include a key policy action from 2003 that came to my attention after reading The Not-So-Friendly Skies – Allergic Passenger Rights by the Allergy Law Project (ALP). For a more detailed analysis of your rights as an airline passenger with food allergies, I highly recommend you check out ALP’s post.

Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Meeting 2014: Dublin, Ireland

As a parent of a child with food allergies, I am always seeking out the latest news and research in an effort to improve my son’s overall health and quality of life. For this reason, I attended Europe’s leading conference on food allergies: the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Meeting (FAAM) in Dublin, hosted by the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI). With about 600 participants from roughly 50 countries, the multidisciplinary seminars at FAAM 2014 covered various topics related to managing food allergies, as well as prevention and finding a cure.

2014-10-11 08.27.52

EAACI represents doctors, researchers and other medical professionals. It has over 7,800 individual members and also works with National Societies and patient organizations, such as the aha! Swiss Allergy Center in Bern. Most recently, I wrote about EAACI’s efforts to raise awareness of food allergies via a written declaration on allergic disease presented before the European Parliament.


FAAM 2014: A Few Highlights

The FAAM 2014 seminars spanned over three days, and nearly 200 abstracts were presented as part of the conference. In the coming weeks and months, you’ll notice that these seminars will be informing many of my future blog posts, as well as the management of our son’s allergies (e.g., requesting a consultation with a nutritionist). In the meantime, I just wanted to share a few of the key findings presented at the conference that I found especially interesting.

Public Policy

  • Mr. Jerry Buttimer TD (Ireland), a member of the Irish Parliament, said that if President Barack Obama can sign into law a bill encouraging schools in the United States to have access to epinephrine (a.k.a. adrenaline) auto-injectors, then surely a similar law could be passed across Europe. Mr. Buttimer was referring to the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act (H.R. 2094), which enables states to pass legislation requiring schools to carry “stock” epinephrine auto-injectors for emergency use.

Socioeconomic Costs

  • Dr. Audrey Dunn Galvin (Ireland), a registered physiologist and lecturer at the University College Cork, presented her research on the socioeconomic cost of food allergies. She discussed the high levels of stress and anxiety that parents can experience due to the constant monitoring of their child’s food allergies. In particular, she discussed how parents must balance the need to protect their child’s environment, while ensuring their positive development. In addition, she mentioned several recent studies socioeconomic costs, including a study of adults with food allergies in Sweden.

Oral Food Challenges

  • Dr. Carina Venter (United Kingdom) talked about food challenges as the best way to identify a true food allergy, and questioned the reliability of self-reported data to determine the prevalence of food allergies. Overall, she stressed the need for more and better data on food allergy prevalence, particularly to evaluate changes over time. As part of her presentation, Dr. Venter discussed her research on trends in the prevalence of peanut allergies in the UK.
  • Dr. Galvin’s research on the socioeconomic impact of food allergies found that routine oral food challenges help to improve health-related quality of life for families living with food allergies. From our own experience, I certainly find this to be true, as food challenges have either allowed us to introduce new foods into our son’s diet or have provided us with greater knowledge and awareness of his allergies, even though he didn’t “pass” the test.

Anaphylaxis

  • Dr. Margitta Worm (Germany) discussed her research examining an anaphylaxis registry for German-speaking countries, including Switzerland. Her study found that adrenaline was rarely used. More specifically, for the emergency treatment of anaphylaxis among 197 children and adolescents between 2006 and 2009, adrenaline was used in only 22 percent of the registered cases.

Oral Immunotherapy

  • Dr. Kirsten Beyer (Germany) described oral immunotherapy (OIT) as a promising treatment for allergies, but highlighted that it is not yet ready for clinical practice. She said that many different protocols exist for OIT, which makes it difficult to compare results and assess its effectiveness. Generally, researchers agree on three primary phases for this treatment: 1) a starting dose, 2) dose escalation and 3) a maintenance dose. During her presentation, she cited a recent study on the side effects of OIT for peanut allergy.

You can also review the tweets from other FAAM 2014 participants by searching for the event hashtag via Twitter: #FAAM2014.


EAACI Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Guidelines

Throughout FAAM 2014, presenters referred to the EAACI Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Guidelines, which were published earlier this year. The purpose of these guidelines is to translate knowledge of food allergies into clinical practice, and in particular, for such areas as diagnosis and management, prevention, quality of life and anaphylaxis. EAACI included a hard copy of these guidelines as part of the printed materials I received during the conference, and I will be sharing what I learn as I review them. While the full document is only available for EAACI members to download, sections of the guidelines are also via the EAACI website.

I will continue to provides updates on the research presented at FAAM 2014, and next week, I also plan on sharing a recipe from our excursion to Northern Ireland. Bon week-end, everyone! Thanks for your continued support.

Is there a Shortage of Adrenaline Auto-Injectors in Switzerland?

EpiPen and Trainer 2456x2496

No, there isn’t a shortage for the moment. However, the supply of adrenaline auto-injectors (AAIs) in Switzerland has been limited recently, due to defects found last fall in one of the two available brands here. According to an official from Swissmedic—the Swiss federal agency responsible for authorizing and supervising therapeutic products—the situation may be more accurately described as “an undersupply,” and it’s improving.

The issue of a potential shortage first came to my attention in January 2014, when I picked up a new prescription for EpiPens because our son’s were expiring. I brought them home from the pharmacy to discover they would expire in May 2014—only a 5-month shelf-life. We had to request a new prescription from our son’s allergist again this spring. I wanted to know more about why this occurred, especially since a typical shelf-life for EpiPens is about 13-14-months—a fact I learned this week via email from a representative of MEDA, the company that distributes this brand in Europe. Also, I’ve been reading about similar situations in the United States via the food allergy blog, Oh Mah Deehness!, and in the United Kingdom via Anaphylaxis Campaign.

Please note: In the United States, from my experience, AAIs are more commonly referred to as epinephrine auto-injectors.

What are AAIs?

We always carry two AAIs with us because our son has severe food allergies. If he had a life-threatening allergic reaction, known as anaphylaxis, we would need to inject him with a dose (or more) of adrenaline. Some symptoms of anaphylaxis can include skin reactions and difficulty breathing. While we’ve thankfully never had to use them, we need to make sure we’re carrying AAIs that haven’t expired.

For more detailed information about AAIs, check out “About Food Allergies: Epinephrine Auto-injectors” via Food Allergy Research & Education’s website.


What brands of AAIs are available in Switzerland?

In Switzerland, people who need AAIs have two options: EpiPen or Jext (see the table note below). Anapen has also been licensed in Switzerland, but hasn’t been available since a product recall in 2012, and it’s not known when it will be available again, based on an email response I received from aha! Swiss Allergy Centre. Here’s a quick comparison of the two available AAIs in Switzerland:

Characteristics EpiPen Jext*
Types of AAI EpiPen Jr and EpiPen Jext 150 and Jext 300
Shelf-life 18 months 24 months
Training device Yes Yes
Refill reminder system Yes (My EpiPen and My EpiPen App) Yes (Expiry Alert Service)
Distributor MEDA Pharma GmbH ALK-Abelló AG

*While the Jext 150 and Jext 300 haven’t been available during the first half of 2014 in Switzerland, a Swissmedic official emailed me on July 10 to report that new lots of the product are expected in July 2014.


What caused a batch recall of Jext AAIs?

In November 2013, there was a batch recall of Jext 150 and Jext 300 in Switzerland. It was discovered that in rare cases, a defect would prevent the adrenaline from being administered properly for certain batches of these products.

 

How did the recall affect the supply of AAIs in Switzerland?

The batch recall meant the retail sector (i.e., pharmacies) had to return their supply of Jext that could potentially have the defect. At the same time, patients with Jext were informed to keep them, since the probability of a malfunction was very low, and based on a November 2013 notice from Swissmedic, a replacement of AAIs could not be guaranteed due to a limited supply—a situation that was occurring throughout Europe.

To help alleviate the increased demand for AAI in Switzerland, Swissmedic approved the distribution of an “emergency batch” of EpiPens “with a relatively short remaining shelf-life,” according to an agency official there. It provided temporary relief and helped prevent a shortage of this medication. Patients with extremely severe and recurrent allergic reactions that had the potentially defective Jext were allowed to receive another AAI during the recall as a precaution.


What’s the situation now?

EpiPens with a more typical shelf-life are now being made available to patients in Switzerland, according to an agency official from Swissmedic. This matches our family’s experience, as the two AAIs we picked up in May 2014 had an expiration date of June 2015. Furthermore, new lots of Jext should be coming on the market yet this month, as indicated by an Swissmedic official. All of this is good news for people living with food allergies, who depend on this medication if they ever experience a severe allergic reaction.


What kind of AAI have you or your family members been prescribed? How, if at all, have you been affected by the Jext recall? Please share a comment below, when you have the chance. Thanks in advance for your help.

Updated: July 10, 2014

Granola Bars, Hives and Cross-Contact

Managing my son’s food allergies often involves an assessment of trust. Do I trust a restaurant to serve a safe meal that’s free of cross-contact? Will a crèche (child care provider) know how to identify and respond to an allergic reaction? When I buy prepared foods at the grocery store, I also put my trust in the manufacturer to fully disclose allergens on its labels. Even though Switzerland has requirements in place for labeling allergens as intended and unintended ingredients, I still recommend contacting the manufacturer if you have any doubts, as I learned most recently from our experience with Coop’s chocolate-coated granola bars.

DSC05021


Soft Snack Granola Bars

I first discovered Coop’s apricot “Soft Snack” granola bars last year, and they quickly became one of my son’s favorite treats. Then, I noticed a chocolate-coated cereal bar from the same product line. From the start, I thought the product wouldn’t be safe. Swiss-made chocolate always seems to carry a warning about potential traces of milk, eggs or almonds. I read through the ingredients and the allergy declaration, but everything looked okay for my son.

Back at home, I served the bars to my son. On at least two occasions, he developed some hives around his mouth. Concerned about the potential for cross-contact with his allergens—even though it wasn’t indicated on the package—I stopped buying them.

Last month, I finally decided to contact Coop and ask about unintended ingredients for the chocolate “Soft Snack” granola bars, as well as the “Bio Crunchy Choco Riegel” bars. As always, Coop responded thoughtfully and promptly to my questions. For its two granola bars made with chocolate, a Coop consumer service representative wrote in an email that:

“…we cannot guarantee that these products are 100% free from milk, eggs and almonds because our manufacturer has a factory which processes gluten, eggs, milk, nuts and soy. This means that products may still contain small traces below the legal limits unless otherwise declared on the packaging (e.g. gluten free).”


“May Contain Traces of…” 

Even though traces of my son’s allergens may unintentionally be included in these granola bars, Coop wrote that the amounts fall below the limits in which Swiss regulation requires a company to list them on the label: 1 gram for each kilogram of the finished product. (For more information about Swiss labeling requirements, see Ordonnance du DFI sur l’étiquetage et la publicité des denrées alimentaires, Art. 8). At the same time, manufacturers can voluntarily label their food products to indicate the potential presence of allergens, even if the unintended amounts fall below these limits. For these granola bars, Coop has decided not to include such a statement.

I emailed Coop last week to see if they would consider adding a voluntary statement about potential traces of allergens to these cereal bars. In addition, I inquired as to whether any of their food products include such a voluntary statement, even if the amount of unintended allergens falls below the Swiss limits. Yesterday afternoon, I received the following statement in an email from Coop:

“Whenever possible, we avoid the use of warnings about traces of allergens, as we believe that such warnings unnecessarily restrict the choice available to allergy sufferers. For this reason, manufacturers are only required to state unintentional contamination with allergens in the product information (which we use for the declaration) if they exceed the legally defined limits. Many manufacturers also specify traces of some allergens that are well below the limit, which we then include in the declarations on the product.”

While I want Coop to be absolutely clear about what allergens could be included in its food products, I can also understand their rationale. Blanket allergy statements like those recently seen at Tesco in the UK, for example, do not help consumers.

I think it’s great that Switzerland has set limits for labeling unintended allergens, but it’s still up to manufacturers to include a “may contain” or “shared equipment” statement for products that fall below these limits. This leads to inconsistent practices among manufacturers, which can be challenging for consumers. For example, an overly cautious allergy warning may unnecessarily limit the options for consumers. On the other hand, without full disclosure of unintended allergens, a consumer may be putting themselves at risk of an allergic reaction.

In my opinion, voluntary labeling of unintended allergens doesn’t always meet the needs of people living with severe food allergies—for which even these trace amounts can sometimes be harmful. Therefore, if you have to avoid incredibly small amounts of allergens and have questions about food products and cross-contact—whether its Coop or Migros or any other grocery store—trust your instincts. Don’t hesitate to contact the manufacturers directly, just to make sure—for your own safety and peace of mind.

I’m curious to hear from others on the “may contain traces” labeling issue. How often do you contact manufacturers? What are the labeling requirements where you live for unintended allergens? Thanks in advance for sharing your thoughts and comments. Bon week-end, all.

Switzerland’s National Day of Allergy 2014

March 27, 2014 – Today marks Switzerland’s 6th annual Journée Nationale de l’Allergie (National Day of Allergy), which is organized by the aha! Centre d’Allergie Suisse (Swiss Allergy Center), a nonprofit organization based in Bern. According to aha!, about 3 million people in Switzerland are living with allergies, asthma or intolerances. The key message for this event is to ensure that people are well-informed and taking preventative measures in order to significantly improve their quality of life.


Source: aha!

In Switzerland today, you can view allergy-related issues and themes broadcast on large screens at the following train stations. These images are intended to stimulate interest and encourage thousands of commuters to learn about allergies.

  • Basel*
  • Bellinzona*
  • Bern*
  • Geneva*
  • Lausanne*
  • Lucerne*
  • St . Gallen
  • Zug
  • Zurich HB Stadelhofen
  • Zurich*
  • Zurich Enge
  • Winterthur

*Informational materials will also be distributed at these stations.

Thanks to aha! for all their hard work to prepare for the National Day of Allergy. It’s great to see an annual event like this—and in locations throughout the country—to help to increase awareness of allergies and provide support for those living with allergies every day.

FYI – The aha! Centre d’Allergie Suisse is also organizing a children’s camp in Crans-Montana in October 2014 for kids ages 8-12 living with allergies, asthma, intolerances and atopic eczema. For more information, click here or contact aha! at 031 359 90 50 or info@aha.ch.

European Parliament Doesn’t Adopt Allergic Disease Declaration

Tuesday, January 21 was the last day for Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to support a written declaration on allergic disease, and it was not adopted. For the declaration to pass, a majority of MEPs needed to sign their name to it. In all, the declaration received 177 signatures—over 200 votes short of being adopted by the European Parliament.

What does this all mean? Here’s a little background info:

  • Switzerland­: Although Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, and therefore does not elect a member of the European Parliament, one of the organizations actively supporting this declaration is based in Zurich—the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI).
  • Written Declaration 0022/2013 and food allergies: This declaration includes all types of allergic disease, such as allergic rhinitis and food allergies. As written in the declaration, “More than 17 million Europeans suffer from food allergies or severe allergies implying a risk of acute attacks or anaphylaxis with life-threatening potential.” Eleven MEPs proposed the declaration in October 2013, which began a 3-month period to collect signatures for its adoption.
  • What the declaration asked for: The declaration focuses on the need to recognize the burden of allergic disease and address the “diagnosis gap,” as about 50 percent of people with allergies are undiagnosed, according to a recent EAACI press release. Specifically, the two-page declaration outlines the following activities:

“to encourage cooperation and coordination between Member States to promote: national allergy programmes to reduce the disease burden and health inequalities; training in allergies and multidisciplinary care plans to improve disease management; use of preventive and tolerance-inducing approaches to allergy treatment; and scientific research into direct and indirect allergy risk factors, including pollution;” (p. 2).

In my opinion, it’s disappointing that more MEPs did not support Written Declaration 0022/2013. The declaration doesn’t require major reforms, but rather what seems like an incremental approach to addressing allergic disease in the European Union. The specific activities listed for Member States to promote, such as national allergy programs or preventive and tolerance-inducing treatments, do not appear controversial.

Furthermore, written declarations as a policy tool have relatively limited influence. Approved declarations only apply to those MEPs who have signed on. In other words, even if a majority of MEPs approve the declaration, it still doesn’t represent the official position or serve as a legally binding document for the entire European Parliament.

“A written declaration is a text of a maximum of 200 words relating exclusively on a matter falling within the competence of the European Union. They do not, however, bind Parliament, that is, they cannot be considered as an act of the Parliament representing its position, but only those of its authors and signatories.” –European Parliament/Plenary website, see Written Declarations

While the European Parliament didn’t adopt this declaration, the campaign for this effort helped raise awareness of allergic disease, including food allergies. For example, EAACI organized three days of skin prick tests in the European Parliament. In all, 350 people were tested, and 47 percent had positive test results.

Video source: EAACI Headquarters

Earlier today, EAACI and the European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients’ Associations (EFA) in Brussels released a joint press release. It contained the following statement from EAACI’s President:

“Allergic diseases should be included in initiatives concerning chronic diseases at national and European level. The European Commission has the capacity to coordinate efforts to respond to the challenges of chronic diseases. Now is the time to act!” -Professor Nikos Papadopoulos, EAACI President

If you have any questions or information to provide about Written Declaration 0022/2013, please leave a comment below. In the meantime, I’ll continue to share public policy updates related to food allergies for Switzerland and beyond as they come up. Bon week-end!