Aug 7 2006
A new study has revealed that latex contained in packaging and rubber gloves can trigger fatal allergic reactions.
Apparently the wrappers and packaging used for a wide variety of foods contain hidden quantities of latex rubber that can trigger fatal allergic reactions in some people.
It seems tests funded by the British Food Standards Agency (FSA) on 21 types of packaging have shown that a third were contaminated with latex, which in some cases was transferred to the food.
These latest findings have prompted calls for new labelling rules to ensure that consumers are aware of the use of latex in packaging across Europe.
Scientists found in one chocolate biscuit the amount of latex was almost 20 times the level that can trigger a reaction in a person sensitive to latex rubber.
Contamination by rubber proteins was also discovered in ice-lollies and pastry, in stickers used on fresh produce such as avocados and apples, on rubber bands used to tie spring onions and asparagus and in the netting that keeps joints of meat intact.
Natural latex is derived from the sap of rubber trees and is commonly found in the adhesive used to cold-seal ice-cream, chocolate bars and biscuits and other chilled foods where heat exposure would cause the product to deteriorate.
But though it is natural it can contain rubber proteins known to be harmful or even dangerous to sensitive individuals.
One company has admitted that in some cases whole wrappers were sprayed with latex adhesive.
Of these proteins, known as "Hev" allergens, four are recognised as being a health risk, and at present manufacturers are not required to include latex warnings on packaging labels.
To date there is no established agreement on what constitutes a safe level, but as little as a billionth of a gram (1 ng/ml) has been known to trigger an allergic response.
The research was conducted by Leatherhead Food International, a leading science research laboratory, on behalf of the Food Standards Agency and is the first known study to quantify the presence of latex in food and packaging.
The agency says it is too early to draw firm conclusions but advises people not to alter their eating habits or the way they prepare food.
According to Joanna Topping, a food technologist who led the research, the survey of 21 food products found that one third of the packaging contained latex and the highest levels were found in ice-cream wrappers, including one choc-ice wrapper containing 374 ng/ml of latex protein.
Another possible source of contamination is the widespread use of latex gloves by workers in the food industry and campaign groups and dermatologists are calling for the use of latex to be listed on food labels and the use of latex gloves reduced in the production of food, adding that they are largely unnecessary.
Latex intolerance affects between 1 and 6 per cent of the population and extremely sensitive individuals exposed to the allergens could suffer a fatal anaphylactic reaction.
A mild latex allergy sufferer might suffer itching, redness or swelling, but it can also affect eyes and breathing and in the most sensitive individuals can trigger heart attacks.
The allergy as a rule comes to light when people try to blow up a balloon or wear kitchen rubber gloves.
In the UK there are known to be at least 350 people who suffer serious problems and who are now members of the UK Latex Allergy Support Group.
The research is published in Chemistry & Industry, the magazine for the Society of Chemical Industry.