In order to help food allergic consumers avoid foods they are allergic or intolerant to, manufacturers of pre-packed foods are required by law to label any of 14 specified allergenic foods whenever they are used as ingredients, regardless of their amount in the food item. However, in a manufacturing environment there can sometimes be a risk of cross-contamination resulting in allergens finding their way into foods which do not contain the allergen in question as a deliberate ingredient. This can happen for example as a result of shared processing equipment and lines during the manufacturing process, or during storage or transport as a result of shared facilities. In such cases the use of precautionary labelling such as 'may contain X' is sometimes used by manufacturers to communicate the risk of allergen cross-contamination to the consumer. However, such labelling has become very widespread and evidence indicates that consumers find this labelling difficult to interpret whilst making safe food purchasing decisions.<P>
In order to be able to better manage the risks posed by unintended exposure to food allergens and more effectively communicate these to the consumer, accurate data are needed on threshold doses for allergenic foods (the highest level of an allergen that does not cause a reaction in the food allergic population). Data are also needed to demonstrate that available methods of analysis can detect and quantify allergens in foods at or around these threshold levels and that they are robust and fit for purpose.
Using pre-existing data and materials developed in the EU-funded EuroPrevall project (in which the FSA is a Partner), studying the prevalence of food allergy in Europe, this project aims to develop a customised database containing data on double blind placebo controlled food challenges from individuals across Europe using seven foods (cows milk, hen's egg, hazelnut, peanut, celeriac, shrimp and fish). A scoring system will then be developed for reaction severity and these will be applied to the development of management threshold doses suitable for use in risk assessments. Clinically validated reference materials will be developed for hens' egg and cows' milk and this material (chocolate dessert) will be used to undertake a collaborative trial of commercially available test kits for these allergenic foods. This will enable threshold doses to be explicitly linked to performance of analytical methods for determination of allergens in foods. The data generated and tools developed from this project will support allergenic risk assessment and risk management processes, as well as the development of analytical methods with appropriate sensitivity for determination of allergens in foods.
<P>Find more about this project and other FSA food safety-related projects at the <a href="http://www.food.gov.uk/science/research/" target="_blank">Food Standards Agency Research webpage</a>.