World’s biggest study of food allergies gets underway

7_Allergy_FoodsHylobates is one of the SME participants of the world’s biggest ever study of allergies known as the Integrated Approaches to Food Allergen and Allergy Risk Management (iFAAM) which officially got underway on 19 March. The €9million project spearheaded by the University of Manchester builds on an earlier €14.3 million research study and will involve the worlds leading experts in the UK, Europe, Australia and US. The parting point is the lack of evidence to either prevent food allergy developing or protect adequately those who are already allergic. The 38 partners iFAAM consortium will produce a standardised management process for food manufacturing companies and 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.

Up to 20 million European citizens suffer from food allergy which may be triggered by a list of foods including milk, egg, peanuts, soya, wheat, tree nuts, mustard, lupin, fish, crustacean and molluscan shell fish and celery which have to be labelled irrespective of the level at which they are included in a recipe. However, management of food allergens that accidently find their way into foods which 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.

Professor Clare Mills, from the Allergy and Respiratory Centre of The University of Manchester’s Institute of Inflammation and Repair and based in the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, will head the study. Professor Mills said: “This is a massive research project which will have far reaching consequences for consumers and food producers. The evidence base and tools that result from this will support more transparent precautionary “may contain” labelling of allergens in foods which will make life easier for allergy sufferers as they try to avoid problem foods.”

Sue Hattersley, Head of the UK Food Standard’s Agency’s Allergy Branch said: “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 will provide a greater insight into the development of food allergies. From an industry and regulatory perspective, it is expected that the results of the project will provide more guidance on the management of food allergens.”

New risk models will be built on pre-existing clinical data sets to support management of these allergens in a factory environment to minimise the use of such labels. Luca Bucchini, manager director of iFAAM partner Hylobates Consulting which will contribute to contamination modelling and in disseminating risk analysis methods to food industry and SMEs, said: “Managing food allergens is still a challenge for many food businesses, particularly smaller SMEs.  Better tools can benefit consumers with food allergies, including children.”

Other researchers will look at tools to measure allergens in food to allow validation and monitoring of allergen management plans. Other strands of the three year 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.


Hylo’s Research Team

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BRAMA Kick-off meeting

BRAMA  (contract no.12/2337)

Rome, 20-21 July 2012

The new 4 year project BRAMA- Botanicals Risk Assessment training in the Mediterranean Area, meet last Friday 21st of July in the center of Rome to have their kick-off meeting. The project composed of four organizations from Mediterranean countries will promote the mobility and exchanges of knowledge in the field of plant food supplements (PFS) through the training and professionalism of young people.

The project is a Cross-Border Cooperation (CBC) within the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI) Mediterranean Sea Basin Joint Operational Programme.Project manager Dr Luca Bucchini  of Hylobates Consulting Sr in Rome, Italy, welcomed partners and ENPI CBC MED officers, and emphasized the core goal of BRAMA which is to build up the competences and professional skills of young researchers, technicians and inspectors in the field of botanicals.

Partners had the chance to present their institution, their experience in the botanical field, and their role in the project. Partners had the chance to present their institution, their experience in the botanical field, and their role in the project. Hylobates Consulting Srl in Rome, Italy, will be conducting the project management and developing the courses and training in quality control and safety assessment of botanicals for both technicians of SME’s and inspectors of regulating authorities. Dr Hanem M. Awad of the National Research Centre (NRC) of Egypt, will be training two selected PhD students on state-of-the-art and novel methods in risk assessment practice of compounds with toxicological activity that can be present in botanicals. Within its modern technical and analytical laboratory facilities, Jordan partner       Alà Al-Subeihi of Aqaba International Laboratories – BEN HAYYAN will train students in applied research for developing physiologically based kinetic (PBK) models for bioactivation and detoxification of selected substances found in PFS. Added to this Mediterranean mix, Prof Anastassios Troganis, University of Ioannina in Greece, brings analytical chemistry research in the project for the comprehensive phytochemical analysis of botanicals, the chemical structure elucidation of compounds of interest, and the development of methods using NMR spectroscopy.

Besides  of training PhD students, BRAMA will train young technicians in quality assurance and safety assessment of botanicals for industry, particularly seeing to the needs of Small and Medium Enterprises. The young  professional counterpart are the inspectors and competent authority staff that will also be trained within modules specifically designed and structured

In addition, ENPI CBC MED officers explained the ENPI programme structure and objectives,  and guided the BRAMA partners with their questions of the financial aspects and rules for the effective implementation of the project.

In the last day of the meeting, project associate Dr Jacques Vervoort of Wagenigen University (NL), remarked that “we need to improve the capacities of young people. That is what BRAMA is about” as he explained the needs for the specialized PhD training courses to be prepared by the partners.

“The project BRAMA is implemented under the ENPI CBC Mediterranean Sea Basin Programme (www.enpicbcmed.eu), and is financed, for an amount of 1,53 million Euro, by the European Union through the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument.

“The 2007-2013 ENPI CBC Mediterranean Sea Basin Programme is a multilateral Cross-Border Cooperation initiative funded by the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI). The Programme objective is to promote the sustainable and harmonious cooperation process at the Mediterranean Basin level by dealing with the common challenges and enhancing its endogenous potential. It finances cooperation projects as a contribution to the economic, social, environmental and cultural development of the Mediterranean region. The following 14 countries participate in the Programme: Cyprus, Egypt, France, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Malta, Palestinian Authority, Portugal, Spain, Syria, Tunisia. The Joint Managing Authority (JMA) is the Autonomous Region of Sardinia (Italy). Official Programme languages are Arabic, English and French.”

– BRAMA Project Management Team –

What car safety can teach to food safety

The skills of a food safety expert, or a food risk assessor, are quite distant from those of an expert of car safety.  For cars, the risks are not of a microbial, or chemical, nature as those that worry food safety types.

Nevertheless, as in the case of nuclear safety, a recent article in The Economist on car safety provides some thought-provoking inspiration.

The first aspect of interest is the race to build more safety into cars. The article cites Volvo’s self-driving V40 car, and Nissan’s future car: the new Nissan will anticipate driver’s next moves. The incentive is clear. As the article’s author puts it “in the short term, novel safety devices can help carmakers squeeze more profit out of buyers.”

A market-based approach to safety has also been advocated for foods. Food businesses offer us organic, fat-free, socially responsible, premium, PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) foods; why can’t they offer us also food which is safer than the competition?  There is of course a legal catch, at least in the EU; you cannot claim that a food has characteristics that all similar food products have. Since all food has to be safe by law (if it not safe, it cannot stay on the market), claiming your food product is safe (or safer) is akin claiming that your food is superior when it merely has characteristics that all food has, or needs to have. So marketing food safety should be prohibited. Surely, though, determined marketers, clever consultants and smart lawyers can get around the prohibition.

But there is a more serious catch, which the article explains in reference to safety devices:

But drivers soon come to expect them as standard, as do regulators….When this happens, such gadgetry becomes just another manufacturing cost“.

This is perhaps a reason for “safe food marketing” never to have been a workable solution.

There is however a more encouraging note in the article. Modern technology has helped reduce car fatalities: according to the article, in 2010 US car accident mortality was the lowest since 1949. Though, with a death toll of over 33,000, there is still much to do. In many ways, this reminds the successes, and failures, of food safety.

What is most inspiring comes from Volvo. Its safety-research chief,  Thomas Broberg said that their “aim is that by 2020 no one will ever be killed or seriously hurt driving their latest models“. No matter how “stupid” the driver is. In the food sector, where blaming the consumer is still state-of-the art risk communication, this is refreshing.

Food businesses have total safety built in regulations – yet, the food safety system, occasionally, still fails. Perhaps, food trade associations, or individual companies, should give themselves a 2020 goal similar to Volvo‘s.

_ Luca Bucchini, Managing Director –

What nuclear safety can teach food safety

Doubtless, foodborne pathogens and contamination have caused more deaths and disease than civil nuclear technology. Luckily, however, producing safe food – or even mostly safe food – is a much easier task than managing a nuclear reactor. A recent article on The Economist provides interesting insights of what nuclear – and food – safety have in common.

The article debates the Fukushima disaster, and sums it up this way:

the equipment was “of an old design. The risks they faced had not been well analysed. The operating company was poorly regulated and did not know what was going on. The operators made mistakes. The representatives of the safety inspectorate fled. Some of the equipment failed. The establishment repeatedly played down the risks and suppressed information…

This could be a food company responsible for an outbreak – happens all the time. Old equipment, lack of proper risk analysis, bad management, lax regulation, human error, equipment failure, no communication of risks.

Philippe Jamet, of France’s nuclear regulator, says something food safety people should listen to: often safety people have a shortfall of imagination, it has not happened so it can’t happen. In his words, “If you had asked me a year ago about an accident in which multiple units were left without power and cooling. I would have said it was not credible.

A good lesson follows:

The need to keep questioning things—from the details of maintenance procedures to one’s sense of the worst that could go wrong—is at the heart of a successful safety culture. …the example of a worker noticing that a diesel generator has been switched off. It is not enough to switch it back on. You also have to ask how and why it got switched off, and what other consequences that may have had. When you have got to the root of it, you not only have to change procedure but also to make sure that all other similar plants know about the problem and how to solve it.

Keep questioning things, rather than assuming that the standard is fine, is important in food safety, as is the food safety culture across the organization.

There’s a final interesting piece, especially to countries that, as their key safety message, keep telling consumers to buy national to be absolutely safe:

In many places, and particularly in Japan, the industry has felt a need to tell the public that nuclear power is safe in some absolute way…..

and after disaster:

If the Japanese nuclear establishment—industry and regulators alike—wants to earn trust, it must be seen to be learning every lesson it can. It must admit how little it previously deserved trust and explain clearly how it will do better in future. Even then, such trust will not always be given.

This seems a very good remark for many food risk managers and communicators. There is a lesson for any national food authority, or industry, which has failed. More generally, complacency has no place in the nuclear, but also in the food safety industry.

– Luca Bucchini, Managing Director –

Twitter-based food risk communication still evolving

Here at Hylo we are following with attention the development of social media-based food risk communication. For example we participate to the EC project FoodRisc. We have also made a preliminary analysis of factors that may affect food recall communication on Twitter. For example we have looked at factors potentially influencing official retweets of the UK FSA’s risk-related messages. We have also produced a simple diagram of two different communication styles, those of the UK FSA and of the USDA: USDA uses hashtags, while the UK FSA seems better at increasing the targeting of message to affected groups.

Luca Bucchini – Managing director

Communicating food recalls to consumers is becoming more common in Italy. Leaf Italia, owner of the Sperlari brand, has gone public with a foreign body-caused recall of pralines.

 This breaks with Italy’s reluctance to go public with recalls, even if – interestingly – the company has prohibited the copying or distributing or discussing the press release issued on their website (for that reason we do not link to it; this discussion is based on what is reported on another source, see below).

“Companies in Italy have in their procedures to go public in these cases”, says Hylo’s Luca Bucchini, “Nevertheless, companies and national authorities have hesitated on the ground that ‘nobody ever goes public with a recall’. This is clearly changing. For example, last year, Carrefour went public. In this case, one should also note that foreign bodies in Italy have always been a low priority for regulators, in contrast with the UK or the US. As in other EU countries, regulators focus on microbial or chemical risk. This is therefore a significant departure from tradition, and we expect to see more of this since regional authorities are eager on this, and several companies were just waiting for someone to break the ice”.

At Hylo we believe that ordinary recalls, even if publicized, when no serious illnesses are involved, are not detrimental to a brand – Ikea is perhaps the best example – and are in line with EU law.

This news piece is not based on the Sperlari website. It is based on the information below:

http://www.ilfattoalimentare.it/sicurezza-alimentare-allerta-dalla-valle-daosta.html

Hylo Team

Demographic characteristics play a role in consumers trust in the food supply chain

Nowadays consumers are more and more interested in food safety and quality. These two factors influence the overall trust consumers have in the food supply chain, in the sense that to trust a food, consumers want it to be not only safe but also of good quality and this applies to all the steps of the food chain, from production to consumption.

A recent study we have looked at has investigated if demographic differences might exist with regard to the level of consumers trust in the food supply chain, considering a range of safety and quality variables. A telephone survey was conducted on a random sample of the Australian population aged 18+ years, with more than 1000 thousands interviews done. From the results some demographic differences emerged in relation to how much attention consumers pay to safety and quality: females, older persons and lower income groups were most concerned.

The results of this study  are relevant to our research investigating – within FoodRisC as well – of how consumers perceive communication of food risks, on gaps or barriers to communication and on common tools for a more effective communication on food. In fact, by knowing the demographic characteristics behind the importance placed on a certain food issue, an appropriate targeted communication campaign might be developed to increase consumer trust. This might be one potential tool to increase effectiveness of communication on food issues.”

Antonella Guzzon – Research Team

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