FOCUS ON FOOD ALLERGENS
Managing Allergens in the Food Chain
ILSI SEA Region Session at the 13th ASEAN Food Conference
Food allergies are increasingly being recognized as an important public health concern worldwide. Nevertheless, understanding of the extent of the problem within the Southeast Asian context and how allergen risks along the food chain can be managed, still needs to be further improved. In order to raise awareness on these two aspects, ILSI Southeast Asia Region organized a scientific session on September 11, 2013, at the 13th ASEAN Food Conference held in Singapore. The session covered topics including:
Prevalence of Food Allergies in Southeast Asia
Dr. Bee Wah Lee, National University of Singapore, Singapore
Undeclared Food Allergens – An Emerging Concern?
Vipa Surojanametakul, Institute of Food Research and Product Development, Kasetsart University, Thailand
Allergen Risk Review - Voluntary Incidental Trace Allergen Labeling (VITAL)
Kirsten Grinter, President & Director, Allergen Bureau, Australia
The Challenge of Food Allergen Analysis in a Global Market
Robin Sherlock, DTS Laboratories/FACTA, Australia
The meeting report and presentations from the scientific session ‘Managing Allergens in the Food Chain’ can be downloaded from the ILSI Southeast Asia Region website HERE.
ILSI Session at the IUNS 20th International Congress of Nutrition
Recent scientific developments have supported the possibility to determine thresholds for certain food allergens below which a very low level of risk would be presented. Nevertheless, determination of such thresholds require high quality and standardized data so that dose-response relationships can be established. To share the risk assessment approaches for food allergens and its associated challenges, ILSI Europe, ILSI North America and ILSI Health and Environmental Sciences Institute (HESI) organized a scientific session on ‘Food Allergy’ at the IUNS 20th International Congress of Nutrition (ICN) in Granada, Spain on September 19, 2013. In addition, the session also covered topics including consumers’ perspective on living with food allergies, as well as methodologies for the characterization of the allergenic potential of novel proteins expressed in biotech products.
The presentation slides from the ICN symposium session
‘Food Allergy’ can be downloaded from the ILSI Europe website HERE
. The session follows on from a previous international symposium ‘Frontiers in Food Allergen Risk Assessment’
, held in 2010 and Workshop 'Food Allergy: From Thresholds to Action Levels' held in 2012, organized by ILSI Europe.
Understanding and Managing Allergens in the Food Industry
The recent seminar 'Understanding and Managing Allergens in the Food Industry' was held on September 26, 2013 at the IPB International Convention Center, Bogor, Indonesia, organized by FOODREVIEW Indonesia, SEAFAST Center, Bogor University, and ILSI Southeast Asia Region. Speakers included Deputy for Food Safety and Hazardous Substances of the National Agency for Drug and Food Control (BPOM), Dr. Roy Sparringa, who highlighted the increasing prevalence of allergies worldwide, with the Data and Information Center of the Association of Hospitals in Indonesia (PD PERSI) estimating that allergies affect approximately 30% of the population in Indonesia each year. He also noted that in Indonesia, allergen labelling is still voluntary, and recommended further discussion among regulators, industry, academia and society about the options to make allergen labelling compulsory or whether it should remain voluntary. Scientific Risk Analysis Consultant from the Allergen Bureau, Australia, Dr. Simon Brooke-Taylor, noted that the types of allergens required to be declared on food product packaging varies by country. Dr. Brooke-Taylor presented the Allergen Bureau's Voluntary Incidental Trace Allergen Labeling (VITAL) system, which includes four elements: ingredient and processing impact assessment; comparison with the VITAL Grid; identifying action levels and recommended labelling; and recording assumptions, validation and monitoring. More information on the seminar can be found through the FOODREVIEW website HERE.
NEWS AND RESEARCH
Current Status of Food Allergies in Asia
While Western populations have seen an alarming rise in the incidences of food allergies over the last few decades, there seems to be fewer reports of food allergies occurring among Asian populations. To critically assess the current situation with regards to food allergies among Asian populations, a group of paediatric clinicians from Singapore conducted a review of the available data on prevalence of food allergies among populations in different Asian countries through a PubMed literature search. They found that while the overall prevalence of food allergies among Asian and Western populations are relatively comparable, the types of food allergies markedly differ. Although peanut allergies are a common cause of food allergy among Western populations, they are rare among Asians. Instead, shellfish allergies are the most common in Asia, with evidence suggesting that this is due to cross-reactive sensitization with dust mite tropomyosin. Additionally, there are also differences in the types of food allergies present within Asian populations, with Japanese and Koreans having a higher incidence of wheat allergies, including severe anaphylactic reactions, but less commonly in other Asian populations. The full article of the review by Lee et al. (2013) can be found in Asia Pacific Allergy Journal.
Scientific Criteria for Identifying Allergenic Foods of Public Health Importance
Although food allergies are recognized as an important public health concern, from a risk management perspective, there is a need to develop risk-based criteria to support decision making and guide the prioritization of allergenic foods base on its importance to public health, so that the greatest risks to society can be reduced through appropriate interventions. In relation to this, the Food Allergy Task Force of ILSI Europe has brought together experts to develop a set of scientific criteria for this purpose as well as a framework for the application of such criteria in decision making. Among the criteria to determine public health significance of allergenic foods include clinical issues (diagnosis, potency of allergen, severity of reactions), population elements (prevalence, exposure), as well as modulating factors (food processing). These criteria have since been furthered evaluated and refined, as well as validated through its application in specific case examples.
Voluntary Incidental Trace Allergen Labelling (VITAL) in Australia
While allergens may be present in food products due to the intentional use of raw ingredients with potential for causing allergies, they may also be indirectly present in the final food due to cross contact within the production environment. As such, some food manufacturers include generic precautionary labeling statements for products that do not directly contain allergenic ingredients, but may have been processed in the same facility that also handles such ingredients. Unfortunately, such precautionary allergen labeling greatly reduces the choice of consumers suffering from food allergies, and does not necessarily provide a higher level of protection. To address this concern, the Allergen Bureau in Australia has developed the Voluntary Incidental Trace Allergen Labelling (VITAL) system, to provide standardized guidance to the food industry in relation to labelling of trace allergens that may be present due to cross-contact. VITAL utilizes scientific understanding of food allergen thresholds to guide its risk assessment, supported by the VITAL Scientific Expert Panel (VSEP). In recognition of the effectiveness of the VITAL approach, other regions are considering adoption of a similar program, working together with the Allergen Bureau, Australia.
The Assessment of Allergenicity of GE Crops
International guidelines, such as the Codex Alimentarius “Guideline for the Conduct of Food Safety Assessment of Foods Derived from Recombinant-DNA Plants”, recommend that GE crops that contain novel proteins as a result of the genetic modification should be assessed for their potential to cause allergies. In this regard, the Protein Allergenicity Technical Committee (PATC) of the ILSI Health and Environmental Sciences Institute (HESI) has been working since 2004 on various projects to develop scientific approaches and methods to characterize and evaluate the potential for allergenicity of novel proteins. More recently, some food safety authorities have also looked to evaluate the potential for an increase in endogenous allergens in food crops due a genetic modification as part of the safety assessment process. However, as shared at the ILSI International Food Biotechnology Committee Workshop on Plant Composition held September 2012, understanding of the baseline level of endogenous allergens in conventionally produced food crops, within the backdrop of natural variation in crop composition due to seasons, climate and other factors, is not well understood. Therefore, it remains a challenge to assess such a concern for GE crops based on the principle of “substantial equivalence”. Further discussion on this issue can be found in the article by Goodman et al. (2013) published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.