Nov 2013 News Round Up

allergens when eating out

In the November 2013 news round up we bring you  information about new research to investigate the preferences of people with food allergies and/or food intolerances when eating outside the home to a new education resources about the nutritional management of food allergy.

Research ahead of new EU allergy labelling regulations

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) wishes to commission research to investigate the preferences of people with food allergies and/or intolerances when eating outside of the home. The main aim of this research is to understand the preferences of the food allergic and intolerant consumer on how information on 14 allergenic ingredients is provided when eating out.

New allergy requirements under the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation (No. 1169/2011) will apply from December 2014, following a 3 year transition period (from December 2011). Food Business Operators should use the transition period to take necessary actions in order to comply with the provisions before the end of next year. The EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation will require that information regarding the presence of 14 allergens when used as deliberate ingredients should be provided for foods that are not pre-packed (this includes non pre-packed foods and pre-packed for direct sale).

The proposed research to be commissioned by the FSA will inform the implementation of the new labelling rules. A better understanding of the needs of food allergic and intolerant individuals will allow the development of clear advice, guidance and tools for both consumers and Food Business Operators.

The Food Standards Agency hopes the outcomes of this research will help them to identify how Food Business Operators can best provide allergen information to consumers to allow them to make safe food choices. The research will also look at the impact of the food labelling changes on the quality of life of food allergic and food intolerant consumers and to provide a reassessment of this after the new rules have been applied.

More information about the new labelling rules and the proposed research is available on the FSA website.

Update on FSANZ Australian New Zealand Food Allergen Collaboration

The Australian New Zealand Food Allergen Collaboration – coordinated by FSANZ and comprised of key stakeholders including the Allergen Bureau – has now been in operation for two years.

At its recent meeting, the Collaboration noted the food allergen portal had received a favourable response from stakeholders. Collaboration Members agreed on other initiatives to promote it further.

The new focus areas agreed at their last meeting were also discussed. These were:

  • Targeted communication: food service sector and allergen thresholds.
  • The Collaboration agreed to target food service kitchen and wait staff to improve their knowledge of food allergy and appropriate allergy risk management practices. Food service representatives reported on a new joint food service and Allergy New Zealand initiative to produce short training videos. These video resources will be completed in 2014 and will be made freely available.
  • Collaboration members also agreed there is a need for consumer education about allergen thresholds. They recognised that many food allergic consumers unnecessarily avoid foods carrying voluntary ‘may contain’ precautionary statements, when the food is safe to eat. The Collaboration will consider external work on allergen thresholds, including survey findings on consumer understanding of the concept, before deciding on the way forward.
  • Understanding the enforcement pathway and considering whether further education about food allergens would be useful at different levels of this pathway.
  • Collaboration members agreed to collate evidence of inconsistency in enforcement agency responses to food allergy incidents and forward this data to the Implementation Sub-committee for Food Regulation for consideration.

The Allergen Bureau looks forward to continuing active participation in the FSANZ Food Allergen Collaboration in 2014.

VITAL a hot topic at Food Industry Association of QLD Conference

VITAL was one of the hot topics of the day at the recent “Food Safety: for the real world” conference held by the Food Industry Association of QLD on 6 November 2013. More than 40 members of the QLD food industry met to hear experts in the field discussing a range of issues which have significant impact on their day to day experience.

Robin Sherlock from the Allergen Bureau spoke on the evolution of action levels for food allergens and the history and future of VITAL 2 – along with a snapshot of the impact of recalls and the tools for allergen management.

The conference was timely in that it coincided with the publication work of the VITAL Scientific Expert Panel (VSEP) Allergen reference doses for precautionary labeling (VITAL 2.0): clinical implications (Allen et al 2013) in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Steve Taylor (a member of the VSEP) advises that a second publication regarding their work – Establishment of Reference Doses for residues of allergenic foods: Report of the VITAL Expert Panel – will be published in early 2014 and is available online.

Allen et al. 2013. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. pii: S0091-6749(13)01059-2. DOI: 10.1016/j.jaci.2013.06.042
Taylor et al 2014 Food and Chemical Toxicology 63: 9-17

Quantitative risk assessment of foods containing peanut advisory labelling

While there has been a proliferation of precautionary allergen statements in recent years, these statements have been shown to be increasingly ignored by allergic consumers. Professor Steve Taylor and his team at the Food Allergy Research & Resource Program (FARRP) have sought to determine any potential risk for peanut-allergic consumers who ignore precautionary allergen statements for peanut on foods.

The team tested various packaged foods bearing precautionary allergen statements to measure whether there were residual levels of peanut in these products. Similar data from 2005 and 2009 was compared.

Of food products bearing various precautionary allergen statements regarding peanut, or products that had peanut listed as a minor ingredient, just over 8 per cent and 37 per cent contained detectable levels of peanut (>2.5ppm whole peanut), respectively. When comparing levels in products tested in both 2005 and 2009, there was little difference in the rate at which peanut was detected.

Given the proportion of products containing detectable peanut, the study authors determined that peanut-allergic individuals should be advised to avoid such products, regardless of the way in which the advisory statement is worded.

The category of products that contained the highest levels of peanut was nutrition bars with advisory labels. Probabilistic risk assessment was conducted, and showed the risk of a reaction to peanut-allergic consumers from advisory labelled nutrition bars was significant but brand-dependent. Peanut advisory labelling may be overused on some nutrition bars but prudently used on others.

The authors conclude that the probabilistic approach could provide the food industry with a quantitative method to assist with determining when advisory labelling is most appropriate.

Reference: Remington et al. 2013 Food and Chemical Toxicology. Vol 62C pp 179-187. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2013.08.030.

Nutritional management of food allergy

The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) have developed an education resource on the nutritional management of food allergy, aimed at providing an evidence-based ‘quick reference guide’ to assist dietitians in the management of patients with food allergy.

The document provides a useful overview of IgE and non-IgE mediated food allergy and food intolerance and how these conditions may be diagnosed. Much of the resource describes the best practice management of food allergy in infants, focussing particularly on food allergic infants who are breast fed or who require supplementary feeds with specialised formula.

A section of the document is dedicated to food labelling and the importance of educating patients/parents about how to read food labels to assist in selecting appropriate foods. Additional detailed guidance is provided in an Appendix. The authors cite research conducted by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute which found there are 30 different types of Precautionary Allergen Statements (PAS) used on foods sold in Australia, with 95% of snack food products including one of these PAS variants. Reference is made to the Allergen Bureau VITAL® system, and advice is given to health care professionals to educate patients/parents on the importance of checking product labels every time.

This education resource can be freely accessed on the ASCIA website.