Clearer food labelling needed

Two years ago, while on a search for a childcare centre for my infant son, I visited many centres that literally stank of artificial chicken-flavoured food enhancers.

I finally decided on a centre where I could not smell it. But, to be cautious, because my son has allergies, I prepared and delivered food to the centre every day.

Recently, I thought it was time to expose my son to more food varieties.

The childcare centre staff assured me that only natural ingredients were used in their cooking, so I decided to let my son try the food prepared at the centre.

A few days into the tryout, my son came home with a runny nose and rashes on his neck. A few days later, he developed rashes on his back.

I dismissed these because the weather had been hot lately.

But finally, raised spots with pus started appearing on his bottom, and then red spots on his forearm.

I confronted the childcare centre and found, to my horror, that the cook had been adding chicken powder to all of her cooking.

The school management showed me the bottle of powder, which was labelled "no added MSG" and carried the Health Promotion Board's (HPB) Healthier Choice symbol. However, on the list of ingredients were "permitted flavourings".

I sent an inquiry to the food manufacturer for clarification of this phrase but received no response. I then asked the HPB, which referred me to the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority's (AVA) website on food labelling regulations.

Thankfully, my son's allergic reactions are considered mild and non-life-threatening. But there is a rising number of people who have multiple allergies. Artificial flavours and enhancers can trigger adverse effects in such people.

Why isn't there any firm regulation for specifying the content of ingredients?

Does the AVA consider phrases like "permitted flavourings" sufficient in providing useful information to consumers?

A clearer indication would be helpful to people with allergies, who need to avoid certain foods.

Why does the Ministry of Health allow schools and childcare centres to serve food with artificial flavourings?

Why is the Healthier Choice symbol printed on these artificially flavoured snacks?

Lim Ee Ping (Madam)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2015, with the headline 'Clearer food labelling needed'. Print Edition | Subscribe