A group of experts at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has recommended that more clinical studies be carried out into whether edible neutralised (alkali refined) bleached and deodorised peanut oils can cause dangerous allergic reactions.
"The scientific data provided by the applicant are insufficient to predict the likelihood of adverse reactions," writes the Scientific Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies.
Peanut allergies are rising in humans, with an estimated 2.5 million people in Europe and the US now vulnerable to the food allergy. The allergy is one of the most severe food allergies due to its persistency and the life-threatening character.
Considerable legal requirements in the EU aim to curb the risk for food allergy sufferers. And the desire to avoid potentially harmful consumer confusion underpinned changes to the Labelling Directive 2000/13/EC due to enter into force this month that essentially flag up to the consumer possible allergens in a food product.
The amendment heralds the mandatory inclusion on food labels of the most common food allergen ingredients and their derivatives: cereals containing gluten, fish, crustaceans, egg, peanut, soy, milk and dairy products including lactose, nuts, celery, mustard, sesame seed, and sulphites.
There is no current cure for food allergy and vigilance by an allergic individual is the only way to prevent a reaction but a peanut allergy can be so severe that only very tiny amounts can be enough to trigger a response.
The EFSA panel said that according to data submitted by the applicant on edible neutralised (alkali refined) bleached and deodorised peanut oils (N/RBD) and hydrogenated and interesterified peanut oil and fats, peanut oils produced under these conditions exhibit low levels of residual peanut protein.
These levels are variable and depend on the manufacturing process (0.1-48 mg/kg). Proteins extracted from these oils have been shown to retain some biological activities as evidenced by skin prick test results and immunoblotting experiments.
In assessing the data the panel expressed the following general concerns related to: absence of clinical studies with N/RBD peanut oils in highly peanut allergic patients; and insufficient clinical characterisation of patients studied to date, in particular their clinical reactivity to peanut at the time of challenges/other investigations.
The absence of N/RBD oil dose escalation studies in highly allergic individuals; reliability and validity of analytical methods used for measurement of protein concentrations in oil; and the absence of evidence on how the process of hydrogenation and interesterification of N/RBD peanut oil affects allergenicity of the residual proteins and peptides were also pinpointed by EFSA.
Its assessment was staged at the request of European Commission to evaluate data submitted by EC Seed Crushers and Oil Processors Federation (FEDIOL) and the International Margarine Association of the Countries of Europe (IMACE).
Yesterday FoodNavigator.com reported on fundamental science that has identified a further piece in the puzzle of why humans are allergic to peanuts, tracking proteins from the gut to the immune system.