The three-year project, led by the University of Manchester and funded by the European Commission, will involve experts from across the world, including the UK, Europe and the US.
The project – Integrated Approaches to Food Allergen and Allergy Risk Management (iFAAM) – also aims to develop tools to inform new health advice to prevent the development of food allergies.
The team from the University of Manchester will work with 38 partners including the Food Standards Agency (FSA), the food industry and patient groups from Germany, UK and Ireland, which represent people at risk of severe allergic reactions.
Head of the FSA’s Allergy Branch Sue Hattersley said: “We welcome the launch of the iFAAM, which the FSA will be supporting through some of our own current research projects.
More consistent approach
“Information learned through iFAAM should help to develop a more consistent approach to providing consumers with information, so they can make safe choices about the food they eat. It also has the potential to provide a greater insight into the development of food allergies, which would be helpful for parents.”
The project aims to provide more guidance on the management of allergens in food manufacturing and production from an industry and regulatory perspective.
It will also work with groups of children from several countries, including the UK, who have been monitored from birth. The aim will be to look at development of food allergies and other allergic diseases, such as asthma or eczema, in early life.
According to the World Allergy Organization (WAO), which described the iFAAM as the world’s biggest food allergy study, food allergy is a rising problem across both the developed and developing world. The condition disproportionately affects children, adversely impacting nutrition, healthy development and anxiety levels. Foods are among the most common allergens, which in the most extreme cases – particularly with peanuts allergies – can cause anaphylactic shock and death.
Every year in the UK alone, there are about 20 recorded deaths and tens of thousands of hospitalisations due to anaphylaxis, although these figures are recognised as being under-representative.
The UK’s Anaphylaxis Campaign has long recognised the growing issue of allergy in all its forms and is backing the iFAAM project.
“Our primary objective was to save lives,” said David Reading, one of the founding members of the Campaign in 1994, after the death of his 17 year-old daughter and several other young people due to anaphylaxis.
Professor Motohiro Ebisawa, chairman of the WAO Communications Council, said: “Food sensitivity is not a simple disease … It has been increasing in severity and complexity. There are complications with food allergies caused by other allergic diseases such as asthma and atopic eczema.”
Meanwhile, new free guidance to help the food industry understand and implement changes in EU legislation for allergen labelling on products has been published by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) in partnership with the Food and Drink Federation. It offers retailers and manufacturers advice on how to implement new requirements on the Provision of Information to Consumers (PIC) regulations.
The new regulations are designed to make it easier for customers to find and understand information on allergens in the food they buy and require companies to highlight allergens (such as nuts, milk and cereals containing gluten) in their products’ ingredients lists.
The document provides advice on how to address the fact that ‘contains’ statements listing allergens will no longer be allowed on pack. Companies have until the end of December 2014 to comply with the requirements.
BRC deputy food director Andrea Martinez-Inchausti said:“We’re delighted to be launching this guidance, which sets out clear steps to help retailers and manufacturers navigate the new requirements on allergen labelling to ensure a consistent approach across the board. Our members are committed to making sure that their customers can make safe and informed choices about the food they buy.”