Interviewer: I'm at Campden BRI talking to Helen Arrowsmith and Anton
Alldrick about their latest developments with food allergens. So there's a lot of talk at the moment about action levels, reference
doses and precautionary labelling. So can I start by asking you Anton, what is a reference dose?
Anton: A reference dose is an index of safe exposure and there are
essentially two types. One separates what is safe from unsafe. While another type which is going to be used in the action level
calculations actually defines how many people are at risk or not at risk from having an adverse reaction.
Interviewer: So what about those that are at risk?
Anton: Well the calculations assume that either 95 percent or 99 percent
of the food allergic population are protected. Unfortunately the clinical nature of food allergy is such that it's not possible
to guarantee the safety of 100 percent of the food allergic population. So the reference doses that are being calculated for
precautionary labelling purposes consider populations of either 95 or 99 percent population who would not be affected. So between
one and five percent would still be affected.
Interviewer: So what about those one to five percent that are potentially
still at risk?
Anton: Well the scientists who have developed the reference doses for
these purposes believe that those individuals, although they might suffer an adverse effect, the severity of that effect would
be far less.
Interviewer: So how does that relate to an action level?
Anton: Action levels can be used in determining whether or not you need
to precautionary label a product for the presence of an allergen. And they're based on a reference dose which indicates what
would be safe consumption for between 95 and 99 percent of the food allergic population.
Interviewer: So Helen, where would I find these reference doses?
Helen: The reference doses currently that are commonly used are available
from the allergen bureau over in Australia. They've come up with a system called VITAL 2.0. Vital stands for voluntary incidental
trace allergen labelling. And they have a tool which is web based where you can calculate an action level from a reference
Interviewer: So I've got reference doses and I've got action levels. How
do I go about using them?
Anton: You go about using them in terms of precautionary labelling and it
must be emphasized that they can only be used for that purpose currently. And Campden BRI has recently produced a guideline
document which includes a flow diagram which shows when and when not you can use them.
Interviewer: So could you give me an example of when it could be
Anton: So for example, it could be used in a case where you've got
homogenous distribution of a cross contaminating food allergen in a ready meal, for example.
Interviewer: And could you give me an instance were it wouldn't be
appropriate to use them?
Anton: Well one classic example would be where you've got a particulate
contaminant for example, nuts, because action levels assume homogenous distribution. And nuts are obviously heterogeneously
distributed because of their particulate nature.
Interviewer: So Helen, what are the consequences of this for testing food
and drink products for allergens?
Helen: The consequences for testing are sort of far ranging and actually
impact the choice of test before you even do anything. And also how you deal with the results once you've got them. One thing to
say is that testing should really be used in combination with other aspects of managing food allergens, such as paper traceability.
You can't solely base decisions on testing results.
Interviewer: So I'm thinking of getting some product tested for allergen.
Where would I start?
Helen: The very first thing you need to do is speak to the analytical
laboratory. It's very important that you get the right tests conducted on your product. In terms of specificity, so picking out
which is the correct allergen or the allergen test to be using. An example of that might be a product which contains milk for
example. The most relevant test here would be one for casein. Whereas if you were looking at a product containing whey power for
example, the most relevant test would be for beta-lactoglobulin. So it's very important to get the correct test for the allergen
that you're looking for.
Another thing to consider is looking at the need for a quantitative test. So the need to
actually get a figure in terms of the results, there are a lot of tests on the market such as dip tests and a lot of the PCR or
DNA based tests which can't provide you with a quantitative result. And there is a need in this circumstance to have that
Interviewer: So you got a test result from the analysis of a product and
you've got an action level. So what do you actually do with these?
Helen: First remember that analysis is only part of the information that's
required in making the decision on whether to precautionary label. You should also be looking at other information that's been
gathered and calculations that have been conducted to inform that decision. We also need to remember that at this point the
assumption is that good manufacturing practices are already in place. So you've already looked at your process and your raw
materials and that you're cleaning to prevent any contamination. So then once you've got your analysis result you compare that
with the action level. And if the action level is exceeded that triggers the need for the precautionary labelling.
Interviewer: So where's all this fit in with established systems for
assuring product safety?
Anton: Well one of the important things in food allergen safety management
is to ensure that what takes place in the factory is accurately reflected on the label. So the use of action levels will allow
food manufacturers to give more careful consideration as to whether or not they need to apply precautionary labelling in certain
Interviewer: We've covered a lot of information there much of which is
presented in much more detail in the Campden BRI guideline 71, Food Allergens, Practical Risk Analysis Testing and Action Levels.
And if anyone wants to talk in more detail then they can talk to you, Anton, about food allergen management and risk analysis and to
you, Helen, about aspects of testing food and drink for allergens. Anton Alldrick, Helen Arrowsmith, thank you both very much