15/02/2019 3 min

Food allergies: improve information to prevent risks

With the constant changes in eating habits and the marketing of novel foods, food allergies continue to be a public health concern.  As a result of its expert assessment work, ANSES found that there was a lack of data on the prevalence of food allergies in France. The Agency therefore delivers a series of recommendations to ensure better monitoring of food allergies, and recommends providing better information to doctors as well as to consumers subject to food allergies.

New habits, new foods and new processing methods can all have an impact on food allergies. Measuring the evolution of allergies and identifying new allergens are important health concerns that may help prevent foodborne allergy risks as well as their most serious manifestation, anaphylactic shock. In this context, ANSES was asked by the Ministry of Health to review new scientific data and propose guidelines for improving the management of this issue.

A better understanding of the frequency of food allergies in France

In its expert assessment report, ANSES emphasised that evolutions in the prevalence of food allergies in France cannot be determined on the basis of the currently available data. Indeed, there is no mechanism for monitoring their evolution and current studies do not allow for a comparison of prevalence values. Incidence data, including data on serious allergic reactions, are insufficient and therefore do not paint an accurate picture of the national situation.

Based on this observation, ANSES recommends that public authorities improve the mechanisms for collecting data on food allergens, as well as the assessment of the incidence or prevalence of allergies, in order to more effectively guide studies and research on food allergies.

Identification of emerging allergens

The reports received by the Allergo Vigilance® Network (RAV) have made it possible to identify some emerging allergens: buckwheat, milk from small ruminants (goats and sheep), kiwi, pine nuts, α-galactose (present in the meat of mammals), peas and lentils. These allergens present a risk of anaphylaxis, i.e. serious allergic reactions, that is sometimes higher than that of certain allergens mandatorily listed in Annex II of European Regulation no. 1169/2011.

ANSES therefore recommends that the list of food allergens that must be reported be updated regularly to better prevent the risk of severe allergy. 

The assessment also highlighted aggravating factors in cases of severe anaphylaxis in adults reported to the RAV, including alcohol and tobacco.

Improvements in information for doctors and consumers

In the absence of official recommendations on food allergies, ANSES considers it appropriate to set up a good practices guide for doctors in order to improve the care and follow-up of allergic patients outside the sphere of specialised centres.

In terms of consumer information, it is essential to make information accessible to people with allergies for meals taken away from home and there are already provisions in Europe for collective and commercial catering. The expert assessment also led to the identification of an increased risk for allergic people when meals are taken while travelling abroad. In this sense, ANSES proposes the drafting of a specific guide for allergic people when travelling abroad or by plane.

More generally, the Agency recommends that an assessment of the effectiveness of the regulations be carried out regarding aspects such as the ergonomics of the mechanism, the accessibility of information, the consequences on consumer behaviour, and the relevance of products subject to information requirements, especially with regard to the practice of precautionary labelling.