Updated: Saturday, 25th January 2020 @ 8:25am

University of Manchester spearheads world’s biggest ever food allergy study in multi-million pound project

University of Manchester spearheads world’s biggest ever food allergy study in multi-million pound project

By Alex Bysouth

The world's biggest ever study of allergies gets underway this week in a £7.65million project spearheaded by the University of Manchester.

With almost 20million sufferers in Europe, leading experts across the globe will build on £12million research in an effort to protect and prevent against food allergy.

Professor Clare Mills, from the Allergy and Respiratory Centre of The University of Manchester's Institute of Inflammation and Repair, based in the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, will head the study.

"This is a massive research project which will have far reaching consequences for consumers and food producers,” she said.

“The evidence base and tools that result from this will support more transparent precautionary ‘may contain …’ labelling of allergens in foods which will make life easier for allergy sufferers as they try to avoid problem foods.”

The Manchester team will work with 38 partners over approximately three years, from industrial stakeholders and patient groups to risk managers and assessor groups including the UK Food Standards Agency.

Management of food allergy and allergens is thwarted by lack of evidence to either prevent food allergy developing or protect adequately those who are already allergic.

European Commission-sponsored research, the Integrated Approaches to Food Allergen and Allergy Risk Management (iFAAM), will produce a standardised management process for companies involved in food manufacturing.

This includes developing tools designed to enforce regulations and produce evidence-based knowledge to inform new health advice on nutrition for pregnant women, babies and allergy sufferers.

Sue Hattersley, Head of the UK Food Standard’s Agency’s Allergy Branch welcomes the launch of the iFAAM and believes it will have a huge impact on the management of allergens in manufacturing.

“We anticipate that the information learned through iFAAM will help determine a more consistent approach to providing consumers with information,” she said.

“It has the potential to provide a much greater insight into the development of food allergies so consumers can make safe choices about the food they eat.”

Foods considered responsible for triggering the majority of allergies across the world include milk, egg, peanuts, soya, wheat, tree nuts, mustard, lupin, fish, crustacean and molluscan shell fish and celery.

These are labelled irrespective of the level they are included in a recipe, but management of food allergens that accidently find their way into foods remains problematic.

Anaphylaxis Ireland’s Regina Cahill believes better labelling would benefit frustrated suffers.

“Careful scrutiny of food labels is an essential part of daily life for food allergic individuals and their families,” she explained.

“The widespread use of ‘may contain...’ statements is both frustrating and limiting for allergic consumers.

“This type of precautionary statement can often leave consumers wondering if the product is likely to contain the allergen mentioned and can lead to risk taking.

“The development of safe allergen thresholds would give the food industry guidelines to work within and would hopefully lead to a welcome reduction in the use of ‘may contain ...’ statements.”

New risk models, built on pre-existing clinical data sets, will support management of these allergens in a factory environment to minimise the use of such labels.

Other researchers will look at tools to measure allergens, to predict likely sufferers of severe reactions and to identify whether early introduction of foods may be protective against allergenic development later in life.

Nikolaos Papadopoulos, Head of Allergy Department at the University of Athens and President Elect EAACI, said iFAAM are setting the stage for facilitating critical steps.

"Food Allergy is a disease that can be conquered, if critical steps are taken,” he said.

The project will also work with groups of babies and children, followed from birth, in a number of countries to look at allergy and give advice on diet in pregnancy and early life.

Dr Bert Popping, Eurofins Scientific Director, is excited to be part of the European Commission project.

“We are looking forward to sharing our newly-developed multiple allergen detection method and making a meaningful contribution to this crucial initiative,” he said.

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