Dr. Steve Taylor on the #1 reason for food recalls

New research on food allergies is always changing the game for the food industry.

Dr. Steve Taylor recently discussed current hot issues on Food Safety Magazine’s podcast, “Food Safety Matters.” The episode was sponsored in part by Neogen.

Taylor, a professor of food science at the University of Nebraska, is the founder and co-director of the university’s Food Allergy Research and Resource Program (FARRP), which helps the food industry work through allergen-related issues.

In the interview, Taylor says that the food supply may be safer than ever for food allergic individuals, despite rising recall numbers, which he attributes in part to regulatory matters.

“In fact, it’s much harder to find foods on the market that are in violation of the labeling laws than it was 20 or 25 years ago,” he said. “I think many companies are having recalls for food for which there’s no customer complaint, and very little — if any — risk.”

But according to Taylor, the food industry does have a ways to go. “If you look at the root cause of all recalls, the number one reason for them is putting the wrong product in the box or package,” he said. “The food industry gets 99.999% correct, but when they make a mistake, it’s a real doozy.”

Individual thresholds

One topic discussed was regulatory guidance on individual allergy thresholds, the minimum dose of an allergen someone can consume before triggering an allergic reaction. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t officially recognize thresholds in its regulations.

Taylor recommends that food allergic individuals and their doctors figure out their own thresholds. Currently, many allergists recommend that patients entirely avoid their allergenic food rather than identify what small dosages they can safely consume.

As for regulatory recommendations, Taylor believes the FDA should recognize allergen thresholds.

“If they would use (data on threshold doses) to pick something I’ll call reference doses, we might eliminate a lot of the precautionary labeling that you see on food products,” he said, referring to the “may contain” labels that advise consumers of potential — but not necessarily present in high levels — allergens within.

Immunotherapy: a successful treatment method?

While most patients are advised to simply avoid their allergen, treatment methods to help desensitize them are under investigation.

“There’s a lot of research being done on immunotherapy, which involves challenging the patient with very low doses of the offending food and increasing those doses over time,” said Taylor. “If you slowly do that, it appears to be relatively safe and you can increase the individual’s personal threshold by 10, 100 or even more times.”

Immunotherapy doesn’t help patients become completely tolerant of their allergen, however.

“Tolerance means you permanently cure them of their peanut allergy, for example,” said Taylor. “Desensitization means after they receive the immunotherapy treatment, they have to continue to eat reasonable doses of peanut almost every day of their lives in order to remain desensitized.”

This post covers just a portion of what Taylor and Food Safety Magazine’s experts discussed in the interview. To listen to the episode in full, click here.

Neogen offers an extensive line of allergen testing products. Click here for more information.

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