ALLERGEN THRESHOLDS – Did you know?
Food allergy is a major public health concern affecting up to 20 million European citizens, with high costs to public health services.
Did you know that there are almost “ready made” solutions / approaches, countries could adopt to address issues associated with unintended allergen presence in food products? For example between 2016 and 2018 EU funded a project that aimed to improve the management of food allergens by the food industry for the benefit of people with food allergies called Integrated Approaches to Food Allergen and Allergy Risk Management (iFAAM)
The unique aspect of this workgroup was that it involved number of professionals from various countries and various backgrounds from health professionals, through food industry to legislative bodies and parties representing patients’ interests.
One of the main conclusions of the project was that Precautionary Allergen Labelling (PAL) has suffered a loss of credibility and trust and thus does not have the ability to facilitate an informed choice. This is important for consumers because these current practices result in poor confidence in coping, low perception of control, reduced observance of avoidance strategies, reduced quality of life and increased risk by consumers who learn to disregard PAL.
When discussing allergen thresholds there are 3 key perspectives which need to be considered:
1) CONSUMER PERSPECTIVE:
Number of researches shows that patients and their parents (in case of kids) live in fear of a life‐threatening allergic reaction, where the threat is ever present but the chance and timing are unpredictable. This uncertainty can lead to extreme anxiety and avoidance on the one hand or frustration and risky behaviours on the other. Health‐related quality of life studies demonstrate a strong adverse impact for the child, teenager, adult and parent.
Understanding patient responses to food safety issues is crucial for effective food safety policy and risk communication.
2) HEALTH CARE PERSPECTIVE:
Clinicians at the iFAAM workshops perceived that there is a lack of understanding, confusion and cynicism about food manufacturing and PAL among healthcare professionals, which poses difficulty in providing useful and informed advice to patients.
There was consensus that we should begin by evaluating the acceptability of mild reactions, limited to one organ system, that is those symptoms which result in no or minimum interference with daily activities. In this context, acceptability needs to factor in not only the reaction characteristics, but also the burden of uncertainty that many people with food allergies experience.
3) INDUSTRY PERSPECTIVE:
Representatives from industry at the workshop felt that they had to balance needs from the general population vs those from consumers with food allergy. However, it was also recognized that subgroup interests are accepted and catered for in general by industry. Providing clear information on labelling may provide a market benefit, particularly for small to medium sized businesses which are currently viewed as ‘more risky’ in terms of safety by those with food allergy.
It transpires that all interest groups are not happy with the currently used system and push for a new better solution. Therefore, it is important to pose a question to our legislative bodies why nothing is changing in this area, despite some of EU countries like Germany leading the charge in approach to unintended allergen presence.
Perhaps now when UK is about to leave EU our FSA will finally start considering iFAAM proposals more seriously.
In the meantime, under umbrella of the University of Greenwich I am conducting a small research evaluating potential impact on UK industry of introduction of allergen thresholds into legislation.
If you are a food professional you can help by spending 10-15 min of your time and completing below questionnaire aimed ad gaging industry preference and “hidden impact” allergen incidences have on food businesses.
The more professionals will complete the survey on behalf of their sites the more accurate results will be. Please help us to better understand this issue by clicking on below link. There are only 2 weeks left to have your say as study ends on 22nd July
The key facts for this article were drawn from below document:
Evidence‐based approaches to the application of precautionary allergen labelling: Report from two iFAAM workshops.
By Audrey Dunn Galvin, Graham Roberts, Sabine Schnadt, Siân Astley, Moira Austin, W. Marty Blom, Joseph Baumert, Chun‐Han Chan, René W.R. Crevel, Kate E.C. Grimshaw, Astrid G. Kruizinga, Lynne Regent, Stephen Taylor, Michael Walker, E. N. Clare Mills.