March 2011 News Round Up

  Allergen Bureau announces funding support for VITAL training

The Allergen Bureau Management Committee is very pleased to advise that Chisholm TAFE has been successful in securing a grant of $10,000 from the TAFE Development Centre to build their skills and knowledge, and that of other TAFE trainers, in the growing area of allergen management and control in the Food Manufacturing Industry.

The purpose of the project is to:

  • Raise the awareness of TAFE trainers to the risk allergens pose to some consumers.
  • Provide a reference point for trainers in all food sectors where they can access relevant resources and referrals that support the delivery of food allergen and intolerance training specific to the Food Manufacturing and Hospitality Industries.
  • Establish pathways between TAFE practitioners and the Food Manufacturing Industry that can support industry placement of trainers to ensure that the challenges in industry inform training delivery.
  • Develop a TAFE based centre of expertise that supports the delivery of Allergen training and awareness, including the VITAL program, to the food manufacturing industry.
  • Develop trainer resources that will support consistent program delivery for all stakeholders who adopted the VITAL program.
  • The “Voluntary Incident Trace Allergen Control (VITAL) – Developing TAFE Expertise” project will kick off in the New Year and will run through to June 2011.

We will provide updates on the project as key milestones are met.

We welcome the opportunity to work with Chisholm TAFE on this important step forward in VITAL training.

For more information please contact Tom Lewis, Allergen Bureau Executive Officer on 0417 537 806.

  Another breakthrough in coeliac disease research

Recent findings from work by scientists in the USA indicate that when a key pro-inflammatory pathway is blocked in mice with induced coeliac disease, they revert to a non-diseased state and are able to tolerate gluten.

Interleukin 15 (IL-15) is a significant cell-signaling molecule that mediates intercellular communication in the body. Previous work has shown that many patients with coeliac disease have high levels of IL-15 in their intestines, an indication of its central role in triggering the inflammatory response to gluten in the disease pathology.

In the current study, researchers found by elevating the levels of IL-15 in the gut of a mouse model, they could initiate the early stages of coeliac disease. They also dosed the mice with retinoic acid, a derivative of vitamin A that was expected to lessen inflammation in the intestine, and were surprised to find this combination of chemicals actually exacerbated the condition.

Blocking the receptors for IL-15 appeared to prevent the development of coeliac disease in the mouse model. Drugs that block IL-15 are already being studied in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, another inflammatory disease, and based on their recent findings the study authors believe such drugs may be useful in treating coeliac disease as well.

The reason for the IL-15 dysregulation is still unknown, but the research team plan to use the mouse model they have developed to further investigate the disease and study potential treatments.

Reference: DePaolo, et al. 2011. Nature. DOI:10.1038/nature09849

  Not just coeliacs buying gluten-free foods

Results of recent market research conducted in the USA shows the market for gluten free products has grown faster than expected, driven by consumers who perceive gluten free to be a healthier choice, rather than those with coeliac disease or dietary intolerances.

Previous reports suggested the rapid market growth rate was due to a high number of people with undiagnosed coeliac disease. Instead, a national online survey of 1,881 adults in 2010 by market research group Packaged Facts, found the top reason (46 percent) for buying gluten free products was a perception that they are ‘generally healthier’. Thirty percent of respondents said they chose gluten-free in an effort to manage their weight and 22 percent said they thought gluten free products were ‘generally higher quality’. Only 8 to 12 percent said they bought gluten free products because they or a member of their household has coeliac disease or an intolerance to gluten, wheat or other cereal ingredients.

Based on earlier market research, Packaged Facts had projected sales of gluten free foods and beverages in the US to reach $2.6bn by 2012. However, its current estimate suggests this target had already been reached. They now project the market will reach $5.5bn by 2015.

Further information about the survey and the Gluten-free Foods and Beverages in the U.S. report can be found at

  Undeclared peanuts in products of Chinese origin

A widespread product recall was instigated throughout Australia in January 2011 after a batch of Chinese-made soy flour used in the preparation of imported crumbed fish and seafood products was found to contain undeclared peanut protein.

The crumb coating, reportedly supplied by Newly Weds Foods Beijing, included peanut-containing soy flour supplied by Anyang Mantianxue Food Manufacturing. Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) believe the supply chain for the soy flour may involve a number of companies and expressed concern about the potential for other foods on the marketplace to also contain undeclared peanut. As a result, FSANZ issued a general warning to peanut-allergic people in Australia to avoid eating imported crumbed fish or seafood products.

Recalls of various brands of crumbed fish and seafood products were initiated on 06, 18, 25 and 29 January 2011. Prior to the recalls, six peanut-allergic people became seriously ill after consuming a type of imported crumbed fish or seafood which contained undisclosed traces of peanut. The six people – four from Victoria, one from Western Australia and one from Queensland, each had emergency adrenaline injection available. One also required a trip to hospital.

An additional recall was initiated in Australia on 24 February 2011 due to undeclared peanuts in frozen dumplings imported from China. It is not clear whether this is related to the peanut-containing soy flour.

Further details of the recalls are available on the website

  Consumers express allergy information preferences

A web-based questionnaire has been used to collect information about how people with food allergies prefer to get information about the allergen content of food. The international study involved 287 participants from Germany, Greece and The Netherlands, with results indicating the information provided on food packaging is currently the most preferred method used by food allergic consumers to avoid allergens.

The participants, who included adults with real or perceived allergies, as well as parents of children with real or perceived allergies, were asked to rank their liking of various formats for allergen information. The different formats included in the study included a food label, an in-store booklet, and a solution based on intelligent communication technology (ICT).

While information provided on food packages was rated by respondents as the most preferred option, improvements to the format of this information are required. These include increased font size, a standardised format for providing allergen information (including precautionary labelling), and possibly a standardised symbol appearing on both the front and back of packaging. Responses indicated that ICT methods will not replace effective on-pack food labelling, but may be used to provide additional, personalised information. Other information collected indicated that food allergic consumers prefer to have a telephone hotline given on the food label rather than a website address.

In their paper, the study authors set out several recommendations for information delivery to food allergic patients in the form of labels and booklets.

Reference: Voordouw et al. 2011. Food Quality and Preference. DOI: 10.1016.j.foodqual.2011.01.009

  Use of label information to avoid peanuts and nuts

A novel study in the UK has tracked the behaviour and ‘thinking aloud’ of 32 peanut and nut-allergic adults while they selected food products during a regular shopping trip. The aim of the study was to better understand the complex risk assessment decisions made by such consumers, with particular reference to use of printed package information.

In addition to recording details during a normal food shop, each participant underwent a semi-structured interview. During the interview they were given 13 potentially problematic packaged foods, and asked if they would purchase the product and what their reasons were. Data from the shopping session, interview and 13-product task were analysed to explore use of allergy advice boxes, ingredients lists and other packaging information.

Results showed that while some participants used the ingredients list as their primary check for allergens, most used the allergy advice box. Generally, the participants believed the information provided on the food packaging was reliable, with some supermarket and brand labels trusted more than others. Interestingly, participants said they also used images and product names to draw inferences about the presence of nuts, despite these not being intended by manufacturers as an allergen risk assessment aid.

Participants suggested a number of improvements to the provision of allergen information, in particular a request for more ‘nut free’ labelling.

Reference: Barnett et al. 2011. Allergy. DOI: 10.1111/j.1398-9995.2011.02563.x.

  Suitable extractants crucial to reliable test results

An important requirement for accurate food allergen analysis is to obtain complete and unaltered protein extracts from the sample under investigation. Scientists at the University of Hamburg in Germany have compared the efficacy of 11 different extractants for the recovery of protein from milk and egg powders. Their results highlight the importance of selecting the most suitable extractant when analysing the allergenic potential of foods.

Compared with the other extraction solutions investigated in the study, the authors report that ‘1% Tween 20® and 0.4% Triton X-100®’ and ‘4% SDS’ are the most suitable extractants to isolate proteins of hen’s egg or milk. Variation of extraction temperature did not appear to cause any changes to the efficacy of the extractants studied.

Further work carried out in the study showed significant impacts on extraction depending on the type of food matrix. While the addition of wheat starch to the sample did not influence the extraction results, using fat powder and dry cake mix led to different results. Depending on the sample, some protein recovery rates decreased and some increased when fat powder and dry cake mix were added prior to extraction.

The authors concluded the suitability of the extractant not only depends on the properties of the allergen but also on the type of matrix containing the allergen.

Reference: Steinhoff et al. 2011. Food Additives and Contaminants. Part A, Chemistry, analysis, control, exposure and risk assessment. DOI: 10.1080/19440049.2010.545957

  Looking at the food allergy epidemic

Leading Australian immunologists Professor Sue Prescott and Associate Professor Katie Allen have recently published a paper on food allergy, which they refer to as ‘the second wave of the allergy epidemic’.

The so-called ‘first wave’ of the allergy epidemic refers to respiratory allergies including asthma, allergic rhinitis and inhalant sensitization. While the prevalence of respiratory allergies dramatically increased prior to the escalation in food allergy rates, especially in regions like Australia, the reasons for the increase, and why the escalation of food allergy rates lagged behind, remain unknown.

Up to 10 percent of infants in Australia are now said to be affected by challenge-proven IgE-mediated food allergy, and it was the parents of these children who would have experienced the epidemic of respiratory allergy in their youth. This adds weight to the findings of new studies which suggest environmental factors can produce epigenetic changes in gene expression and disease risk that may be potentially heritable across generations.

The authors express great concern in relation to the impacts of modern lifestyle on the increasing incidence of food allergies, and cite changing dietary patterns, changing intestinal commensal bacteria and vehicular pollution as progressive environmental changes linked to the development of food allergy. They suggest the rising rates of maternal allergy may amplify the effect of environmental changes, and warn that the generation of children born to these allergic parents appear less likely than previous generations to outgrow their food allergies.

‘Westernisation’ of the developing world appears to significantly contribute to the rising incidence of food allergy, especially in non-Caucasian populations. As such, the global burden of allergic disease is expected to dramatically increase.

Reference: Prescott & Allen. 2011. Pediatric Allergy and Immunology. Vol. 22(2) pp. 155-160. DOI: 10.1111/j.1399-3038.2011.01145.x

  Lack of sleep may contribute to food allergies

Previously, associations have been shown between both long and short sleep duration and obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. This has prompted a group of researchers based in the USA and China to investigate whether sleep duration is associated with sensitization to food and aeroallergens.

The study participants comprised 1534 rural Chinese adolescent twins aged 12-21 years who completed sleep questionnaires and skin prick tests to nine foods and five aeroallergens.

Compared with individuals with the highest recorded sleep duration, those who slept less were more likely to be sensitized to any food allergen, independent of percent body fat. The authors also observed a significant dose-response association between the number of positive skin prick tests and shortest sleep duration.

If further studies can prove short sleep duration is one of the risk factors for allergic sensitization, the authors believe the global burden of allergic diseases could be dramatically reduced by providing appropriate guidance on sleep duration for youth.

Reference: Zhang et al. 2011. Clinical and Experimental Allergy. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2222.2010.03677.x.