Criteria for Identifying Allergenic Foods of Public Health Importance

Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology. 2008;51:42-52

The World Health Organisation and other food safety authorities recognise food allergy as a significant public health concern due to the high prevalence and potential severity of the condition and the impact it has on the quality of life and economy. A public health perspective focuses on risk management at the societal level rather than precautions taken by individuals. Allergen lists were originally drawn up on the basis of a combination of prevalence and severity information, but data to document inclusion were limited. Since then the number of allergenic foods for which reactions have been well documented has grown considerably. Yet, most of them are of limited significance to public health.

To address food allergy issues from the point of view of risk management, an expert group appointed by the Food Allergy Task Force of the International Life Sciences Institute ILSI Europe reviewed the criteria. We propose a revised set of criteria together with a framework which can be used to help decide which allergenic foods are of sufficient public health importance to be included in allergen lists. Criteria include clinical issues (diagnosis, potency of allergen, severity of reactions), population elements (prevalence, exposure) and modulating factors (food processing). In the framework, data providing evidence for these criteria are weighted according to quality, using a ranking derived from evidence-based medicine. The advantage of this approach is that it makes explicit each of the considerations, thereby rendering the whole process more transparent for all stakeholders.

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