Across the Atlantic, some scientists are busy trying to make allergen warnings on food labels more effective.
Research was done at the University of Manchester. It measured how much of five common food allergens is needed to trigger a reaction in only ten percent of people allergic to each food.
“What we wanted was to find a level of allergen which would only produce a reaction in the most sensitive ten percent of people. This sort of data can then be used to apply a consistent level of warning to food products,” said Professor Clare Mills, lead researcher.
What We’d Like To See
Maybe the study findings will find their way across the ocean to help upgrade food labels in the U.S. as well. Currently, trace levels of allergens that accidentally get into foods are unregulated in the U.S. Warnings about the possible presence of trace allergens, such as “product produced in a plant that also processes peanuts,” are applied to food labels voluntarily.
Since allergy sufferers differ in the amount of an allergen they can tolerate, eating foods with trace-amount cautions is riskier for some than others.
“What we’d like to see are warnings which tell people with allergies to avoid certain products completely or just apply to those who are most sensitive,” said Mills.
Findings So Far
To do their analysis, the scientists collected data from 436 people across Europe with allergies to hazelnut, peanut, fish, shrimp, or celery. These participants were given tiny doses of the food each were allergic to and their reactions were recorded.
Analysis of the data showed:
- For peanuts, hazelnuts, and celery, between 1.6 and 10.1 milligrams (1/1000 of a gram) caused an allergic response in the most sensitive ten percent of people tested.
- The trace amount of fish needed to trigger a reaction in the most sensitive ten percent was 27.3 milligrams; and for cooked shrimp the level was 2.5 grams.
The researchers hope these findings will someday make food allergen warnings more specific, and therefore more helpful.
While one research study is never definitive, and there are other food allergens that need to be tested at small dose levels, it is encouraging to know that there are individuals working to relieve the burden of living with a food allergy.
The Manchester study was published in the Journal of Allergy, Asthma and Clinical Immunology.