World’s largest food allergy study launched

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 25th March 2013

The world’s biggest ever study of food allergies, which is spearheaded by the University of Manchester and supported by industry players such as Unilever and Eurofins, began on Friday 22 March 2013.

The €9million project builds on an earlier €14.3 million research study and will involve the world’s leading experts in the UK, Europe, Australia and US. Together they mark the biggest study of food allergy in the world.

The European Commission-sponsored research, known as the Integrated Approaches to Food Allergen and Allergy Risk Management (iFAAM), will produce a standardised management process for food manufacturing companies. It will also develop tools designed to enforce these regulations and produce evidence-based knowledge to inform new health advice on nutrition for pregnant women, babies and allergy sufferers.

The iFAAM study involves 38 partners, including Unilever, Leatherhead Food Research, Anaphylaxis Ireland. Countries involved include Greece, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy. Partners in the study include patient groups representing people at risk of severe allergic reactions, risk management and assessor groups, including the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA). The project will also work loosely with the clinical community, working in collaboration with the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

“This is a massive research project which will have far reaching consequences for consumers and food producers,” said Clare Mills, head of the study and Professor at the Allergy and Respiratory Centre of the University of Manchester’s Institute of Inflammation and Repair.

“The evidence base and tools that will result from this will support more transparent precautionary ‘may contain’ labelling of allergens in foods, which will make life easier for allergy sufferers as they try to avoid food problems,” Professor Mills added.

“We welcome the launch of the iFAAM, which the FSA will be supporting through some of our own current research projects,” said Sue Hattersley, head of the UK Food Standards Agency’s Allergy Branch. “It has the potential to provide a much great insight into the development of food allergies – and, from an industry and regulatory perspective, more guidance and a big impact on the management of allergens in food manufacturing and production,” she said.

There is currently a list of foods considered to be responsible for triggering the majority of allergies across the world which includes milk, egg, peanuts, soya, wheat, tree nuts, mustard, lupin, fish, crustacean and molluscan shell fish and celery. These foods have to be labelled, irrespective of the level at which they are included in a recipe. However, management of food allergens that accidently find their way into foods that might otherwise be free of allergen, for example through the use of common processing equipment, remains problematic and often gives rise to precautionary “may contain” labels.

New risk models will be built on pre-existing clinical data sets to support management of these allergens in a factory environment to minimise the use of such labels. Other researchers will look at tools to measure allergens in food to allow validation and monitoring of allergen management plans. Other strands of the project will seek to predict who is likely to suffer a severe reaction, identify whether early introduction of allergenic foods and other nutritional factors may be protective against development of allergies later on in life.

The research project, which is expected to take three years to complete, will also work with groups of babies and groups of children who have been followed from birth in a number of countries including the UK to look at allergy and give advice on diet in pregnancy and early life.