Perspectives in the food industry
The majority of food allergens so far studied show common features: they are low molecular weight proteins (10-70 kd) and they are stable in the presence of heat, proteases, and acid. Allergic reactions are relatively dose-independent and there is great variability in the subjective response. For some subjects, for example, even a very small protein dose is enough to provoke the immune response and cause allergy symptoms. The Commission for the Codex Alimentarius, the European Commission, and other international organizations have defined the scientific criteria for the selection of allergenic foods to be indicated on food labels. All over the world, the food industry is subject to the legal obligation to produce safe food, based on the regulations in the countries in which they operate. The food industry differs from the restaurant and catering industry in that there are a limited number of products and ingredients in the food industry, making the control phase simpler, while the restaurant and catering industry have menus that change seasonally and rely on raw materials rarely used in the food industry. However, the management of allergens for both the food industry and for restaurants is difficult. In the food industry there are standardized procedures and a high degree of surveillance while, in the restaurant industry, everything depends on the menu and customer choices. Depending on its size, a restaurant may find it difficult to dedicate a separate kitchen to preparing food for allergy sufferers. To understand more about these challenges, we interviewed three key managers: Dr. Stefano Del Frate, Dr. Marina Sternieri and Dr. Simone Gozzi.
Dr Stefano Del Frate Global Scientific, Regulatory Affairs, Nutrition, and Food Risk Manager, GBfoods, Milano (Italy)
What are the critical points for you in managing allergen risks?Raw materials are the point of greatest attention. Often these raw materials are not simple and homogeneous raw materials but mixtures or semi-finished products. These materials are extensively controlled both by suppliers and by our company as well. We manage possible cross-contamination in our factories and we manage possible trace allergens accidentally present in the goods we receive from suppliers. As a result, the list on the label gets longer because it reflects this approach.
Do you carry out analyses in the factory or do you commission them from external laboratories? In the past, we performed most of the tests in the plant. Now, however, analyses for allergens are referred to external independent laboratories with better abilities to detect correctly the presence of allergens. Furthermore, they provide validated and certified results.
Do you think, like most food companies and diagnostic kit makers, that thresholds should be set? Why do you think European legislators do not set them? For years, the scientific community has been challenged by the concept of thresholds, both at a European and at a global level. The fact that it is not possible to identify with full certainty a minimum amount of allergen under which there is adequate consumer protection affects the effort to set limits. The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) itself, in its document dated 2014, did not provide any allergen thresholds other than for gluten and sulphites. The lack of rob
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