EFSA said its panel on dietic products, nutrition and allergies (NDA) was asked by the European Commission (EC) to deliver a scientific opinion following a notification from the International Organisation of Wine (OIV).
Ovalbumin (egg white) is a protein used as a clarification aid in wine under EC directive 2000/13/EC, and the French-based OIV had asked whether it might be permanently exempted from labelling.
Specifically, the albumin is used to clarify tannin-rich red wines, where the levels added by different wine producers very variable.
May trigger ‘adverse reactions’
Ovalbumin – which can also include the preservative lysozyme – comes in either fresh or frozen egg white form, or as a freeze-dried powder of egg white or purified ovalbumin.
The NDA panel noted that in earlier assessments, it had concluded that wines ‘fined’ with egg products of albumin “may trigger adverse reactions in susceptible individuals under the proposed conditions of use, based on the limited information provided on the characterisation of filming agents”.
EFSA noted “numerous and well-documented reports of allergic individuals reacting to egg albumin” and reports of the prevalence of such allergies in a reported 0.3 per cent of adults.
One signficant issue, the NDA said, was the uncertainty of methods used to quantify ovalbumin and other egg allergens in wine, and the limitations of past clinical studies reporting reactions in egg-allergic individuals.
The NDA panel noted that the OIV application referred to new analytical methods for the detection of egg allergens in the fining agent and the detection of ovalbumin in wine.
But the panel noted that wine manufacturing processes had not changed and that the OIV had not provided any new clinical studies.
Given these facts – added to information provided on fining agents regarding their content of egg proteins other than ovalbumin – the panel concluded:
“Wines fined with ovalbumin (egg white) products may trigger adverse reactions in susceptible individuals under the proposed conditions of use.”
Further egg allergens
The panel also noted that commercial preparations of ovalbumin/egg white sometimes contained other proteinaceous (of the nature of protein) materials in addition to ovalbumin.
“Egg allergens other than ovalbumin were found in every ovalbumin fining product tested,” the NDA panel said, where fining agents also contained other egg proteins.
But the panel said no quantitative application about the presence of other proteins had been provided to EFSA.
The NDA panel noted that in 2 new analytical studies provided by the OIV, ovalbumin was detected at trace levels of 0.2mg/l in 1 out of 4 white wines fined.
The results from 1 study also showed no detectable amounts of ovalbumin in any of the 77 commercial wines tested.
But the panel said these results “cannot be extrapolated to a random sample of commercial wines due to the varying use of non-mandatory manufacturing practices…which may have affected proteinaceous fining agent residues in the wine”.
Other egg allergens could not be excluded, said the NDA panel, while there were difficulties in measuring residual fining agents, particularly in red wine, despite detection improvements.