Foreword Vol.1 Nr.1
The impact of food allergies on human health is a growing concern. We present here both a review of prevalence data and an analysis of food product recalls. The first paper demonstrates how difficult epidemiologists’ work is in this area. The second introduces the world of food manufacturing, a complex industry where allergen sources are difficult to detect in the “nesting doll” combination of ingredients. We interviewed food safety managers both in the food production industry and in the mass catering business, as well as senior leadership from test kit manufacturers and service laboratories. Large industries are generally doing well in this area, while the restaurant and catering businesses, as several fatality cases remind us, still have more to do. Of equal concern, however, are the shocking studies revealing that excessive Precautionary Allergen Labeling, PAL, has created a paradox where patients with food allergies disregard “may contain” label information. In the US, as Dr. Sayler reports, the FDA discourages the use of PAL but even in the US there are no allergen thresholds.
Dr. Varallo reports that we face a “puzzle” because the list of allergens required to be labeled differs from country to country while the EU, the US, and the majority of countries still have not established allergen thresholds that would allow food industries to reduce PAL.
There are now a large choice of quantitative test methods and, just as important, operators have the necessary experience to control raw materials and prevent cross-contamination in the production process. It is time for authorities to issue action levels in order to stop a “blind” run to the detection of trace amounts of allergens so low that not one person in a million would be affected. If not, in the next years nothing will change in the number of people who suffer and sometimes die. Moreover, the international food product trade will face a growing jungle of different rules. For example, not only is the list of regulated allergens different from country to country, but the thresholds to achieve compliance may be as low as zero to 10 ppm.
Another issue is the analytical methods used in the food production industry and the urgent need to align the results of the different ELISA kits. Government agencies should create and enforce regulations and standards requiring test kit manufacturers to use identical calibration materials and methods and to clearly report results in a standardized milligram of allergenic protein/kg of tested food in order to receive accreditation. Of course, calibration is not the only problem, as we learn from Dr. Senyuva’s contribution to this journal, but we believe that large differences in allergen quantification due to the use of different ELISA kits is unacceptable and avoidable.
A lot of work has already been done to establish the reasonable minimum immunoassay performance for the main targets, especially by AOAC. Meanwhile, MoniQA and other groups (as Dr. Poms writes) are doing excellent work to make Certified References Materials available. Unfortunately, we are afraid that this process will move very slowly. The EFSA has clearly stated that politicians, rather than scientists, should make the decision to abandon the “zero threshold” policy and how to do it. There are fears that this will result in booming LCMS sales because the priority will be obtainin
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