Allergen experts at the FDF have concurred with comments from René Crevel, science leader for allergy and immunology at Unilever, that action levels could become a reality within two years.
Food and drink firms have been calling for action levels for years. An action level is the concentration of a particular allergen, below which a warning is deemed unnecessary.
"Agreement on harmonised action levels from the European scientific and regulatory community would be a major step," said the FDF.
Agreed quantitative management action levels derived from scientific knowledge of the population's profile of reactivity would enable firms to consistently manage allergen cross-contact and communicate allergen status with clear, quantifiable boundaries that are well tolerated by consumers, claimed the FDF experts.
To assist with harmonisation across the EU and internationally, a review of the Voluntary Incidental Trace Allergen Labelling (VITAL) action levels developed by the Australia/ New Zealand Allergen Bureau has been aligned with the work of the Europe Food Allergy Taskforce of the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI).
The Taskforce is working to develop a consensus on these action levels and is scheduled to hold a workshop in September to share its conclusions.
'May contain' labelling
According to Article 36.3(a) of the new Food Information Regulation, the European Commission must adopt measures on voluntary information covering 'may contain' allergen labelling. The FDF supports the development of European risk management guidance relating to 'may contain' labelling including allergen action levels.
However, the FDF recognises that misunderstandings and inconsistencies exist in the application of precautionary 'may contain' labelling from food manufacturers and consumers.
"We need to re-establish the value of precautionary labelling terms and consumer confidence in them," said the FDF. "If used correctly and consistently, based upon harmonised quantitative action levels, precautionary 'may contain' labelling is a very important risk reduction and communication tool. A standardised risk management approach is required."
The FDF is working with FoodDrinkEurope, to develop best practice on allergen management.