Biscuit and ice cream wrappers have been found to contain hidden latex that could trigger potentially fatal allergic reactions, according to a new study.
It also found evidence that the food itself was contaminated and one chocolate biscuit contained levels of the latex allergens around 20 times what is likely to cause a reaction.
The investigation was funded by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) which has said it’s too early for firm conclusions to be drawn.
It has also advised people not to alter their eating habits or the way they prepare food.
Between 1 per cent and 6 per cent of the UK population are thought to suffer from latex allergies and anyone with a severe allergy could suffer a lethal anaphylactic reaction.
Natural latex, derived from the sap of rubber trees, is used in meat netting, fruit and vegetable stickers, rubber bands and confectionery wrappers.
But it can contain proteins known to be harmful or even dangerous to sensitive individuals and while there is no agreement on what constitutes a safe level, as little as a billionth of a gram (1 ng/ml) has been known to trigger an allergic response.
Scientists at the research company Leatherhead Food International in Leatherhead, Surrey, looked for latex allergy triggers in samples of food packaging for confectionery, fruit and vegetable produce, pastry and dairy products.
They found that one third of 21 different types of food packaging tested positive for one or more of the allergens. Highest levels were found in ice cream wrappers, including one choc ice wrapper containing 374 ng/ml of latex protein.
The research, led by Dr Joanna Topping, and published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, is the first comprehensive attempt to measure latex allergens in food and food packaging.
At present manufacturers are not required to include latex warnings on food packaging labels.
Barry Kay, an allergy expert at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London, said: ‘Latex can also give contact hypersensitivity in some subjects and so these individuals should avoid touching contaminated packages. There should be legislation on latex used in food packaging.’
The FSA said the research was part of an on-going programme to develop a reliable test for latex allergens in food and packaging.