When does a food become an allergen?

when does food become an allergen

Although more than 170 foods have been assessed as potentially allergenic, it is only a minority of these that cause the majority of allergic reactions in sensitised individuals. For nearly 10 years, expert groups from the ILSI Europe Food Allergy Task Force have worked to establish how to prioritise allergens according to their importance in public health risk management. The framework they have developed has just been published and is available with open access.

When the incidence of allergic reactions to certain foods appears to increase, regulators and risk managers are called on to decide whether the food or ingredient is of such public health importance that it needs to be actively managed, such as through mandatory labelling. Underlying this is the need to have a set of objective criteria by which to assess the potential hazard posed by the allergen in order to make these decisions both consistent and transparent.

In developing the framework, the group’s main challenges were to find a basis on which the allergenicity of foods can best be described and to define a method to combine the relevant measures of allergenicity into a scoring system that prioritises allergenic foods on the basis of their public health relevance. This needed to be done in the context of well-established frameworks for assessment of risk in the food supply. Case studies included in the paper help to demonstrate how the new framework can be used to determine the public health importance of emerging allergens including apple, kiwifruit and rice.

To download the open-access article, please click here.  Authors, including the principal author, include three members of the VITAL Scientific Expert Panel.

Reference: Houben et al. 2016. Food and Chemical Toxicology Vol. 89 pp 8–18 doi:10.1016/j.fct.2015.12.028