PAL: task force warns about the complexities of blanket thresholds
The European Academy of Allergy & Clinical Immunology (EAACI) task force on food allergen thresholds has evaluated the allergen threshold of 5mg per 100g recently proposed by a group of researchers. The group of experts from EAACI urged caution, highlighting many of the complexities of using a blanket threshold to inform PAL.
The original article, by Zuberbier et al., reported no evidence of fatal anaphylactic reaction to 5mg of allergenic protein (or less) in previous publications. However, according to the EAACI task force, it is difficult to determine the exact amount of protein consumed to trigger a fatal reaction. Moreover, not all fatal reactions have been recorded and published in scientific works. The task force concluded that literature reports are not an appropriate basis for public health policy regarding fatal food allergy reactions. They also highlighted that the proposed threshold would mean that for some allergens, consumers may still experience allergic reactions (including anaphylaxis).
Zuberbier et al. suggested a voluntary PAL statement such as “this product contains [the named allergens in the list of ingredients], it may contain traces of other contaminations [to be named, e.g. nut] at concentrations less than 0.5mg per 100g of this product”. However, EAACI experts expressed doubts about this solution because: 1) it goes against international recommendations for expressing detected levels of allergens; 2) it is too long and complex and can create confusion for consumers; 3) it lacks consideration of the unintended presence of allergens as particulates or uneven distribution of allergens in foods; 4) it does not consider the current lack of reliable analytical methods to accurately quantify all priority allergens at a 5ppm level; 5) it defines a threshold that could be over-conservative, for some allergens, leading to a high number of products with an unnecessarily PAL.
In conclusion, EAACI experts stated that a different approach should be adopted to support the food industry and regulators in providing safe foods for allergic consumers.