Supermarket giant Woolworths changed the label of one of its meat products after a 14-year-old was hospitalized with anaphylaxis after consuming the product.
Jo Hagilassis was shopping at his local Woolworths on February 8th and picked up some ingredients for dinner that night.
Hagiliassis picked up Woolworths Macro Free Range Australian Chicken Breast mini kebabs and thought the product would be good for her son, who has anaphylaxis and a severe wheat allergy.
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The founder of Anaphylaxis Network Australia, her mother had previously purchased the same brand of chicken breast. Seeing that the kebabs were plain and had no marinade in them, she thought she was fine with her own choice.
But not long after she made the kebabs for dinner that night, my son started feeling sick.
“Forty-five minutes after taking it, he started complaining of severe stomach pains,” Hagiliassis told 7NEWS.com.au.
“Then I noticed that he had started to develop hives on his body.”
“I realized right away that he was having an anaphylactic reaction. At that stage, I didn’t know what it was, but I knew the symptoms.”
Hagiliassis administered an EpiPen and called triple zero. While waiting for the ambulance to arrive, she began piecing together what might have caused his violent reaction.
“I found a container[of chicken skewers]in the trash and when I looked at it again, it actually contained wheat.”
After being rushed to hospital, Haggiliasis’ son received another injection of adrenaline. He eventually stabilized and was discharged the next day.
On the back of Woolworths chicken kebab products, flour is listed in bold as one of the ingredients. Wheat and gluten are also listed under the ingredient list next to the word “contains”.
It is understood that wheat is listed as an ingredient because it is used as a binding agent to keep the chicken on skewers.
Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) sets requirements for the labeling of allergens in food.
According to its website, a “separate allergen summary statement in bold that begins with the word contained” should be included near the ingredient list.
Haggiliasis agreed that it is up to the individual to check the ingredient label of the product. However, she said the fact that the product is labeled as chicken breast is still confusing.
“When you look at the (macro) chicken breast…there’s no label on the back. It’s one of the ingredients, so it doesn’t need to be labeled,” she said.
“That’s an added layer of complexity that’s why I haven’t seen it in supermarkets for whatever reason.
“I understand that everyone has to triple check and self manage their allergies. I felt like I looked like that.”
Hagiliassis contacted Woolworths and notified them of the problem. As a result, the company has now changed its kebab packaging to include allergen labels on the front and back.
“A new label has been placed on the front of the package indicating that the product contains wheat and gluten. This change will be on store shelves from March 2023,” a Woolworths spokesperson told 7NEWS. told .com.au.
“We encourage our customers to review the full list of ingredients on product packaging prior to purchase to ensure they are complying with dietary requirements and preferences.”
An advocate for anaphylaxis awareness said she was happy with the change, but that food manufacturers should be more careful about including “unnecessary allergens” in their foods.
After the incident, Hagiliasis said his son developed a food aversion to chicken.
Although he recovered physically, the experience took a toll on him mentally as well.
“Having such a life-threatening reaction is traumatic and will take time to recover,” she said.
In a statement to 7NEWS.com.au, FSANZ said it sets food regulatory standards but does not enforce them.
“This is the prerogative of the food authorities in each state/territory jurisdiction,” the statement said.
It is understood that FSANZ has not been in contact with Woolworths regarding labeling issues.