Our work

Effective risk management of allergens

When should your food products be labelled for potential cross-contamination by allergens? TNO supports the development of evidence-based risk management guidance with quantitative action limits based on international approaches specifically adjusted for your company. This helps to deliver safe products.

Allergens in food are a risk for the allergic consumers. Traces due to cross-contamination of raw materials or production facilities with allergens may form a problem if they are unexpected or incidental. Currently, no clear quantitative guidelines exist on how to deal with labelling the presence of allergens due to cross-contamination. Current EU rules only contain a list of food allergens which have to be indicated on packaging whenever these, or ingredients derived from them, are used at any level in pre-packed foods. In terms of allergen management, a food manufacturer is faced with the main question of how to deal with potential cross-contamination of the end product with allergens and how to avoid labelling the product with a 'may contain' statement. Present legislation does not provide clear action levels to enable the manufacturer to assure acceptable levels. The manufacturer clearly wants to avoid allergic reaction among its consumers and minimise consumer complaints.

May-contain labelling

TNO has considerable consultancy experience in allergen management and has been working for years with international parties (for example the Allergen Bureau Australia, ILSI Europe, the American University of Nebraska's Food Allergy Research and Resource Program FARRP and the EU project iFAAM) to establish thresholds, and develop international guidelines. This resulted in quantitative guidance (VITAL) developed by the Allergen Bureau in Australia which was recently updated in cooperation with international allergen experts from TNO and FARRP, among others. Within ILSI Europe, this approach has been scientifically reviewed and is supported by international stakeholders. This helps the food industry in its decision to label products with a warning for the potential presence of food allergens, the precautionary 'may contain' labelling. An improvement of the current practices of the precautionary labeling will mean an enhanced product choice for food allergic patients and can support clinicians and dieticians in advising patients.

Quantifying the risk

TNO has developed a method that quantifies the number of allergic consumers that may react with an allergic reaction to specific concentrations of allergen in food products. This automated probabilistic method combines consumption of a wide range of food products with the sensitivity of allergic patients for a number of food allergens. Internationally, it is seen as the best approach for risk management of allergens and it will be further developed in a European project iFAAM to an evidence based application.

Scientific references

Spanjersberg MQI et al., Food and Chemical Toxicology, 2007, 45: 49-54
Kruizinga AG et al., Food and Chemical Toxicology, 2008, 46: 1437-1443
Madsen CB et al., Food and Chemical Toxicology, 2009, 47: 480-489
Spanjersberg MQI et al., Food Additives and Contaminants, 2010, 27: 169-174
Blom WM et al., J Allergy Clin Immunology, 2013, 131:172-9
Gibert A et al., Am J Clin Nutrition, 2013, 97:109-16
Dambacher WM et al., Nutr Journal, 2013, 12:22

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Dr. Geert Houben

  • food allergy
  • allergy
  • food toxicology
  • immunotoxicology
  • Risk assessment and risk management


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