Should food companies declare the amount of allergen present?

Clinicians often try to gather information about the type and amount of an allergen eaten by a patient who has just had an allergic reaction. These details help to estimate the person’s sensitivity and risk of future severe reactions. Researchers in the Netherlands have tested the feasibility of calculating the amount of allergenic protein in a food based on label information and bite- or sip-sized portions. But, the task proved every bit as complex as it sounds!

Ninety-seven frequently consumed foods containing milk, egg, peanut, or hazelnut were selected: 27 non-composite foods and 70 composite foods (made up of multiple ingredients). The researchers estimated the amount per 100 g, per portion, and per bite or sip sizes, in different age groups: 2–3, 4–6, and 19–30 years. Multiple participants were recruited to measure the average size of a bite or a sip in each age group, with sizes found to increase with age.

For composite foods, the exact amount of an ingredient is not usually declared on the label. For these foods, the amount of allergenic protein could only be estimated based on information provided on food labels, plus additional details sought from the food manufacturer.

When the results were compared with known Eliciting Dose (ED) levels for milk, egg, peanut, and hazelnut in allergic populations, interpretation was generally too complex to be clinically useful. In everyday practice, the authors conceded, it would be hard to obtain detailed and reliable information about the amount of allergenic protein incorporated in composite foods. Instead, they encourage companies to disclose the amount of common allergenic foods on their labels.

Reference: Kok et al. 2021 Nutrients. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13020587

The Open Access article is freely available here.