Researchers at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom have embarked on what is being called "the biggest study of food allergy in the world."

The European Commission-sponsored research, known as the Integrated Approaches to Food Allergen and Allergy Risk Management (iFAAM), will produce a standardized management process for companies involved in food manufacturing. It will also develop tools designed to enforce these regulations and produce evidence-based knowledge to inform new health advice on nutrition for pregnant women, babies and allergy sufferers, according to the researchers.

The Manchester team will work with 38 partners including industrial stakeholders (represented by Unilever and Eurofins), patient groups representing people at risk of severe allergic reactions from Germany, UK and Ireland and a risk manager and assessor group including the UK Food Standards Agency.

There is currently a list of foods — including milk, eggs, peanuts and wheat — considered to be responsible for triggering the majority of allergies across the world that have to be labelled irrespective of the level at which they are included in a recipe. However, management of food allergens that accidentally find their way into foods that might otherwise be free of allergen, for example through the use of common processing equipment, remains problematic and often gives rise to precautionary “may contain” labels.

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New risk models will be built on pre-existing clinical data sets to support management of these allergens in a factory environment to minimize the use of "must contain" labels. Other researchers will look at tools to measure allergens in food to allow validation and monitoring of allergen management plans. Other strands of the project will seek to predict who is likely to suffer a severe reaction, identify whether early introduction of allergenic foods and other nutritional factors may be protective against development of allergies later on in life.

"We welcome the launch of the iFAAM, which the FSA will be supporting through some of our own current research projects," said Sue Hattersley, head of the UK Food Standards Agency's Allergy Branch. "We anticipate that the information learned through iFAAM will help determine a more consistent approach to providing consumers with information, so they can make safe choices about the food they eat. Furthermore it has the potential to provide a much greater insight into the development of food allergies — and, from an industry and regulatory perspective, more guidance and a big impact on the management of allergens in food manufacturing and production.”