Consumers and food manufacturers would benefit from revised precautionary food allergen labelling, study
Revised reference does for precautionary labelling for food sold in supermarkets would have a “mutually beneficial” effect on allergic consumers and the food manufacturing industry, according to a recent international study.
Researchers involved in the study, including the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) in Australia, the Food Allergy Research and Resource Program (FARRP) of the University of Nebraska in the US, TNO in the Netherlands and Unilever in the UK and globally, aimed to establish reference doses for 11 commonly allergenic foods to guide a “sensible approach” for manufacturers in providing credible and uniform precautionary labelling across industries and products.
The researchers developed reference doses from statistical dose distribution modeling of individual thresholds of allergy patients in a dataset of more than 55 studies of clinical oral food challenges.
“Establishing a reliable labelling system that is informed by evidence and is practical to use will not only enhance the safety and credibility of precautionary labelling but also enable manufactures to minimise its overuse through a formal risk assessment tool,” said Professor Katie Allen, lead author of the study and Director of Population Health at MCRI.
“This in turn will provide increased consumer confidence in their legitimacy and enable allergic consumers to eat a wider variety of food with safety and confidence,” Professor Allen said.
Researchers said there had been a “dramatic increase” in precautionary labelling by food manufacturers in a bid to mitigate any risk from low-level contamination from allergens.
The MCRI said precautionary labelling for food allergens such as “may contain traces of” were now present on more than 65 per cent of all packaged processed foods in Australian supermarkets. According to the MCRI, this has placed “severe restrictions” on dietary choices for allergic consumers.
Australian Food News reported in July 2013 that the MCRI had also found that current ambiguities in precautionary allergen labelling on food may be causing consumer complacency in Australia.
Reference doses inform revised VITAL allergen thresholds
The reference doses developed as part of the international study form the basis of the revised Voluntary Incidental Trace Allergen Labelling (VITAL) 2.0 thresholds currently recommended in Australia.
The VITAL system, which was developed by the Allergen Bureau, which also initiated the international research project, is a standardised allergen risk assessment tool for food producers.
Researchers said the revised doses would proved a level of protection of 99 per cent for the allergic population.
“The majority of the allergic population would have access to a wider variety of foods if the reference dose concept were adopted by the food industry and used to guide labelling decisions,” Professor Allen said.
However, researchers said it was also important to identify the small fraction of the population who would not be fully protected by the reference dose so that those individuals could receive more intensive education about avoidance strategies.
Food allergies in Australia
In Australia, food allergies affect 10 per cent of infants, 4-8 per cent of children aged between 5 and 13 years, and roughly 2 per cent of people over 13. The majority of food allergies in children are not severe, and will disappear with time, according to Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia.
The most common triggers for food allergy are hen’s egg, cow’s milk, peanuts and tree nuts. Less common triggers include seafood, sesame, soy, fish and wheat. Peanuts, tree nuts, seeds and seafood are the major triggers for life-long allergies.