Miranda Dobson

University of Manchester begins £7.7m food allergy research

Food industry research worth £7.7m is being undertaken at the University of Manchester to better understand food allergies and how to manage them.

The European Commission-sponsored study will develop a standardised management process for food manufacturers as well as ways to enforce regulations around food allergies.

Professor Clare Mills from the Allergy Respiratory Centre of the University of Manchester’s Institute of Inflammation and Repair and based in the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology will lead the study, which will be the biggest of its kind ever undertaken.

Prof. Mills commented: “This is a massive research project which will have far reaching consequences for consumers and food producers.

“The evidence base and tools that result from this will support more transparent precautionary “may contain” labelling of allergens in foods which will make life easier for allergy sufferers as they try to avoid problem foods.”

This research, known as the Integrated Approaches to Food Allergen and Allergy Risk Management (iFAAM), builds on an earlier £12.2m European-funded project which involved experts from the UK, Europe, Australia and the U.S.

A new risk model based on pre-existing clinical data will help management of allergens in the factory environment.

This means the need for ‘may contain’ labels will decrease as traces of foods often considered to be allergy triggers, such as nuts, soya and wheat, will be better managed in a factories.

Manufacturers producing food otherwise suitable to consumers with allergies will benefit by making their product more widely available, while customers with food allergies will have more choice without the fear of finding traces of allergens.

The Manchester research team will work with 38 partners including industrial stakeholders represented by Unilever and Eurofins, patient groups, and a risk manager and assessor group, including the UK Food Standards Agency.

Dr Bert Popping, Eurofins Scientific Director, said: “Eurofins is excited to be part of this European Commission project.

“We are looking forward to sharing our newly-developed multiple allergen detection method and making a meaningful contribution to this crucial initiative.”

Sue Hattersley, Head of the UK Food Standard’s Agency’s Allergy Branch added:“We anticipate that the information learned through iFAAM will help determine a more consistent approach to providing consumers with information, so they can make safe choices about the food they eat.

“Furthermore it has the potential to provide a much greater insight into the development of food allergies – and, from an industry and regulatory perspective, more guidance and a big impact on the management of allergens in food manufacturing and production.”

The University expects to have produced a monitoring system for allergen levels in food over the next three years, as well as ways to identify who is most at risk to severe allergic reactions.

Babies and groups of children from a number of different countries will be involved in the study, to assess whether the early introduction of different foods makes a difference to tolerance levels.

Regina Cahill from Anaphylaxis Ireland commented: “Careful scrutiny of food labels is an essential part of daily life for food allergic individuals and their families.

“The widespread use of ‘may contain…’ statements is both frustrating and limiting for allergic consumers.

“This type of precautionary statement can often leave consumers wondering if the product is likely to contain the allergen mentioned and can lead to risk taking.

“The development of safe allergen thresholds would give the food industry guidelines to work within and would hopefully lead to a welcome reduction in the use of ‘May contain …’ statements.”

Countries involved in the study include Greece, Germany, Ireland, US, Netherlands, Denmark, Austria, Belgium, Spain, Switzerland, Poland, Spain, Iceland, Croatia, Lithuania, Denmark, France, Italy, Turkey.

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