If these ‘reference dose’ action levels are accepted by the EU Member States and allergic consumers themselves, it would mean a more uniform approach to ‘may contain’ labelling.
It would also result in a large reduction in such labels, which have proliferated as manufacturers sought to provide a due diligence defence against potential litigation.
Should the new system be adopted, foods would be safe to eat by the vast majority of people, provided they contained no more than the threshold level of a particular allergen. Experts believe it would also reduce the “risk taking” that currently happens with a number of allergy sufferers.
‘Communicate the risk’
“We know there are a variety of precautionary statements out there, but how is the best way to communicate the risk to the consumer?” asked Dr Chun-Han Chan, a food allergy expert at the Food Standards Agency, speaking at a food allergy conference in London last month organised by the Anaphylaxis Campaign.
“We need to get international agreement for the use of reference doses and at the moment we don’t have this and it leads to inconsistent [allergen may contain labelling] approaches,” said Chan.
However, new research is putting precise figures on these reference doses and this work was described by Professor Claire Mills, from the Institute of Biology at the University of Manchester, at the conference.
For example, if peanut protein were present in a food below the threshold level of 1.5mg, research has shown that it would not cause an adverse reaction in 95% of the population and only minor reactions in those sensitive to peanut.
Not cause an adverse reaction
Similar thresholds are currently being worked on for other allergens such as hazel nuts, cow’s milk and egg, she added.
“We want to make [validated risk management] tools that are grounded in evidence; that are transparent; that the industry can apply; but that patients and their health care professionals understand.
“So, 1.5mg could be a good dose to pick for peanut and that’s something we have enough data on and we should be pressing ahead and actually setting something for that,” said Mills.
For hazelnut, the research has pointed to a threshold dose level of 0.9mg of protein for the same 95% level of population protection, she added, but further work is required to confirm this figure.