‘Grand vision’ to regulate allergies in food
A Manchester scientist has contributed to a review of allergen analysis that aims to improve the situation for those living with food allergies – preventing food fraud and protecting consumers.
Food allergies are a rapidly growing problem in the developed world, affecting up to 10% of children and 2-3% of adults, yet allergens remain challenging to analyse accurately, making it difficult to legislate and manage risk.
A team, including Professor Clare Mills, based at The University of Manchester’s Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, has published an open access paper in the journal Analyst outlining a strategy to address the key measurement challenges in allergen analysis.
The paper appears in a special collection entitled ‘Detecting food authenticity and integrity’, guest edited by Professor Roy Goodacre and Dr David Ellis at The University of Manchester’s Manchester Institute of Biotechnology.
Professor Mills, chair in Molecular Allergology, and leader of the EU funded EuroPrevall and iFAAM projects, said: “Those with food allergies must be careful to avoid the offending food and have to rely on allergen labelling. Precautionary ‘may contain’ labelling is confusing and its use needs to be better linked to the presence of trace amounts of allergens that are known to cause a reaction in the food allergic individuals.”
Having previously applied their experience and expertise to solve a mystery in the spices supply chain, where ground cumin was initially thought to have been contaminated with powdered almond but was later shown to have been tainted with traces of a lesser-known spice, mahaleb, belonging to the same nut family, the group proposes a series of measures aimed at improving the analysis of allergens in all foods.
They set out a ‘grand vision’ in the paper, with recommendations primarily addressed to the European Commission, the Health and Food Safety Directorate, DG Santé. The recommendations consist of: bioinformatics studies to pin down relevant markers or allergenic proteins within allergenic foods, development of reference methods for these allergens, and finally appropriate reference materials which can ultimately support decisions regarding appropriate allergen thresholds.
Significant international effort and an inter-disciplinary approach will be required to achieve these aims, but the result would be a food chain which is reliable, resistant to fraud and ultimately safe for consumers. The iFAAM project will deliver new knowledge and approaches to help address the gaps identified in the paper but as the project enters its final year it is becoming evident that much remains to be done to improve the quality of allergen analysis. This is essential to inform decisions as to when precautionary labels should be applied or whether product recalls are required.
Michael Walker, of the Government Chemist Programme at LGC and an author of the paper, said: “If we fail to realise the promise of future risk management of food allergens through lack of the ability to measure food allergens properly the analytical community will have failed a significant societal challenge. Our recommendations are complex with associated resource demand but rarely has such an exciting interdisciplinary scientific endeavour arisen as a solution to a key socially relevant problem.”
For further information see the blog post (http://blog.lgcgroup.com/2016/04/20/is-food-allergen-analysis-flawed/).
Notes for editors
M J Walker, D T Burns, C T Elliott, M H Gowland, E N C Mills. Is food allergen analysis flawed? Health and supply chain risks and a proposed framework to address urgent analytical needs. Analyst (2016) 141:24-35. doi:10.1039/c5an01457c
[open access link: http://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlehtml/2016/an/c5an01457c?page=search]
The paper appears in a joint Analyst and Analytical Methods themed collection [http://rsc.li/1EWq29y] showcasing the latest discoveries and developments in detecting food authenticity and integrity; including the analysis and detection of food fraud, contamination, adulteration and spoilage. The collection has been guest edited by Professor Roy Goodacre and Dr David Ellis at The University of Manchester.
The University of Manchester is running a short course on Food Allergen Analysis and Management, using a blended learning unit aimed at professionals and graduates who wish to develop their practical skills and theoretical knowledge in this area.
iFAAM (Integrated approaches to food allergen and allergy management) aims to : (1)Develop evidence-based approaches and tools for management of allergens in food; (2) Integrate knowledge derived from their application into food allergy management plans and dietary advice; (3) Develop strategies to reduce the burden of food allergies in Europe.[http://www.inflammation-repair.manchester.ac.uk/iFAAM/]
About the Royal Society of Chemistry
The Royal Society of Chemistry is the world’s leading chemistry community, advancing excellence in the chemical sciences. With over 50,000 members and a knowledge business that spans the globe, we are the UK’s professional body for chemical scientists; a not-for-profit organisation with 175 years of history and an international vision for the future. We promote, support and celebrate chemistry. We work to shape the future of the chemical sciences – for the benefit of science and humanity.
To mark our 175th anniversary in 2016, we are asking our members and supporters around the world to give 175 minutes of their time to chemistry. From inspiring people through outreach, to serving on our committees, to exploring what membership of the Royal Society of Chemistry can do for them, there are many opportunities for our members and supporters to get involved. Throughout the year, we are sharing their stories and celebrating the contribution they make to the chemistry community.
Integrated approaches to food allergen and allergy risk management (IFAAM)
Funded Value: €9million
Funded Period: 01-March-2013 – 28-February-2017
Principal Investigator: Clare Mills
Health Category: generic health relevance (100%)
The world’s biggest ever study of allergies – spearheaded by The University of Manchester – officially started on March 19th 2013. The €9 million project builds on an earlier €14.3 million research study and will involve the worlds leading experts in the UK, Europe, Australia and US. Together they mark the biggest study of food allergy in the world. Up to 20 million European citizens suffer from food allergy. However management of both food allergy, by patients and health practitioners, and allergens, by industry, is thwarted by lack of evidence to either prevent food allergy developing or protect adequately those who are already allergic. European Commission-sponsored research, known as the Integrated Approaches to Food Allergen and Allergy Risk Management (iFAAM), will produce a standardised management process for companies involved in food manufacturing. It will also develop tools designed to enforce these regulations and produce evidence-based knowledge to inform new health advice on nutrition for pregnant women, babies and allergy sufferers.
The iFAAM consortium consists of 38 Partner Organisations, coordinated by The University of Manchester.
“…Integrated Approaches to Food Allergen and Allergy Risk Management (iFAAM), will produce a standardised management process for companies involved in food manufacturing. It will also develop tools designed to enforce these regulations and produce evidence-based knowledge to inform new health advice on nutrition for pregnant women, babies and allergy sufferers.”