Testing food consumption assumptions to improve allergy risk assessment

When assessing food allergy risks, it’s generally assumed that when people with food allergy eat a food product, the amounts eaten will be comparable to that of non-allergic individuals. Whether this assumption is correct or not is critically important to the safety of the allergic consumer. A recent study has sought to test this assumption for the first time.

The study was carried out by food allergy experts in the Netherlands, who investigated food intake in two well-defined adult food allergic populations: those allergic to cow’s milk and/or hen’s egg and those with peanut and/or tree nut allergies. The results of the study showed these patients consume equal amounts of foods within a food group when compared to the general population of the Netherlands.

This confirms that intake data from food consumption surveys in the general population can be used to estimate the risk from allergens present in food for food allergic users of such food, without under- or overestimating the risk for the allergic population.

If, compared with non-allergic people, food-allergic individuals were to eat specific food products less or more often, or completely avoid other food products depending on their allergy profile, this would mean average consumption data should not be used for allergen risk assessment purposes. Such differences in consumption patterns would have a marked impact on what appropriate precautionary allergen labelling or corrective action might be required for each food type. However, the study showed that those with food allergy selected alternative products from the same food group based on their allergy profile, for example a sunflower paste replacing a peanut butter or a vegan cheese replacing cows’ milk cheese, and consumed them at similar levels.

Reference: Blom et al. 2020 Food and Chemical Toxicology. Vol. 146 DOI: 10.1016/j.fct.2020.111781

The full paper is freely available for download until 23 November.

Author Geert Houben is a member of the Allergen Bureau VITAL Scientific Expert Panel (VSEP). See VITAL Science http://allergenbureau.net/vital/vital-science/.  Author Marty Blom supports and contributes to the VSEP.