EFSA’s latest advice updates its 2003 opinion, and reviews all published data on the proteins that have been identified as food allergens, cross-reactivities, the effects of food processing on allergenicity, methods for allergen detection, and doses that trigger reactions.
The Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) estimates the prevalence of food allergy across Europe at around 1% of the population, for both adults and children, based on food challenges for diagnosis.
It adds that it is difficult to extrapolate a European-wide figure from any single country’s data because of differences in genetic sensitivity for different parts of the European population – and some areas of Europe have more food allergy data available than others.
However, EFSA estimates that about 75% of allergic reactions among children are caused by egg, peanut, cows’ milk, fish and nuts, while about half of allergic reactions among adults are to fruits of the latex group and of the Rosaceae family (which includes apples, pears cherries, raspberries, strawberries and almonds), vegetables of the Apiaceae family (which includes celery, carrots and aromatic herbs) and various nuts and peanuts.
The NDA panel noted that there was pressure to establish thresholds for certain allergenic foods for labelling purposes, but said its job was risk assessment rather than risk management.
“The reliability of the risk estimates will depend on the type, quality and amount of data used, to estimate both population thresholds (or threshold distributions) and exposure to the allergenic food/ingredient,” it said.
“…The Panel emphasises that the purpose of the risk assessment – for example, exemption from labelling – and the level of risk which may be acceptable, are risk management decisions, and therefore are outside EFSA’s remit.”
Food manufacturers must label 14 allergens under EU law – peanuts, tree nuts, soybeans, mustard, eggs, lupin, milk, fish, cereals containing gluten, sesame, celery, sulphur dioxide, molluscs and crustaceans. For products that do not intentionally contain these as ingredients, current industry best practice is simply to take all necessary precautions to avoid cross contamination and flag up the possibility of allergens' unintentional presence.
The updated scientific advice is available online here.