The precautionary labelling would be based on allergic reaction thresholds, drawing on ‘action levels’ that Europe's food industry plans to use to ensure safe factory production and inform allergen labelling of products. That's according to René Crevel, science leader allergy and immunology with Unilever.
Progress on the adoption of the thresholds is expected as soon as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) publishes its opinion following a review into the latest allergen research, said Crevel.
“Should [EFSA] choose not to produce an opinion specifically on this particular problem, we should try to move forward based on the general science and industry agreement,” said Crevel, who also chairs the food allergy taskforce of the European branch of the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI).
Come in for a lot of flak
However, Crevel also suggested that rather than being solely a voluntary industry approach, designed to ensure greater transparency and consistency of allergen threshold labelling, it could be incorporated into FIC. Voluntary ‘may contain’ labels have come in for a lot of flak for being overused and not helpful to allergen suffers.
“There could be a debate as to whether the actual levels should be placed in the regulation, so that they can be revised more regularly,” he added. Speaking at Food Manufacture's Food safety conference* last month, Crevel, described the latest research based originally on the Australian Allergen Bureau’s Voluntary Incidental Trace Allergen Labelling (Vital) system.
‘Vital reaction studies’
Crevel said: “The Vital reaction studies will provide a high level of protection to allergic consumers. At least 99% will be totally protected, but those who are not totally protected will still be in a situation where they will experience mild reactions that are controllable.”
He added: “One of the problems is that it is not transparent at the moment. People use different standards, so nobody can actually say a product is safe or is not safe.”
*Food Manufacture's Food safety conference took place on October 17. Sponsors for the event were Intertek, Ishida and Alchemy, plus NSF International, Safefood 360 and the Institute of Food Research.