Free food allergy e-training program designed for cooks and chefs

A free, potentially life-saving online food allergy training program for cooks and chefs, funded by the Australian Government Department of Health, has today been launched by the National Allergy Strategy, a partnership between the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) and Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia (A&AA).

Developed in conjunction with chefs and cooks with experience in commercial kitchens, “All About Allergens: The next step for cooks and chefs” focuses on food preparation, handling and storage, and highlights the importance of effective communication between the kitchen and other staff and consumers with food allergy.

“Food allergy rates are continuing to rise in Australia, and we know that the majority of fatalities from food-induced anaphylaxis occur when people are eating out,” says Associate Professor Richard Loh, co-chair of the National Allergy Strategy and past President of ASCIA.  “So that is our area of focus with the All About Allergens online training program. We had great uptake of the first stage of the free All About Allergens program for people in the food service industry, so we’ve developed this next stage specifically for cooks and chefs to maximise their understanding of food allergies and hopefully reduce the number of food-induced allergic reactions we see.”

The first All About Allergens online food allergy training program has seen almost 11,000 food service industry workers from all over Australia enrol in the course since its launch in July 2017. This next stage of the training program provides information specific to cooks and chefs and aims to educate them on the safest way to handle, prepare, cook and store food to prevent food-related allergic reactions.

There are two versions of the new training program; one for general food services such as restaurants and cafes, and one for camp food services, such as school camps or sports camps. Free to access for all users and delivered in a convenient online format that can be completed at the user’s convenience, All About Allergens: The next step for cooks and chefs has been developed for anyone providing a food service.

Martin Latter, Group Director of Kitchens for AEG Ogden, who has managed some of Australia’s largest commercial kitchens and has even cooked for royalty, welcomed the new training program, saying, “It can be very difficult to manage all of the different dietary requests that come through a large kitchen, and often customers don’t have any concept of the type of pressure cooks and chefs are under and make requests at the last minute.

“Over my many years of working in large kitchens I’ve often seen little things happen that can put people with food allergies at serious risk, like not using the same utensils across different foods, or wearing gloves for hygiene purposes but not understanding the cross-contamination risk.”

“This training program will go a long way towards minimising the risk of food allergen cross-contamination by spelling out, in simple terms, the best way to reduce risk and help to keep our customers safe. It also provides some great resources and templates that can be used in commercial kitchens to help reduce the risk.”

Maria Said, CEO of A&AA, said, “Hospital admissions for food-induced allergic reactions have increased fivefold over the past 20 yearsii, and fatalities from food-induced anaphylaxis are increasing by about 7 per centiii every year. While we know that food allergen management in kitchens needs to improve, we’re certainly not wanting to point the finger at cooks and chefs. What we do want to do is encourage a sense of shared responsibility when it comes to preventing episodes of anaphylaxis and food-related allergic reactions. Customers with allergies are primarily responsible for their health needs and need to advise food service staff about their allergies, preferably in advance, and kitchen staff need to take their food allergy seriously and understand how to manage those requests.”

Another factor that the National Allergy Strategy has highlighted as essential in protecting consumers is initiating a mandatory Food Safety Supervisor program in all states, that includes food allergy management. Currently the role of Food Safety Supervisors is not standardised nationally and are only mandatory in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory, and the focus is primarily on microbial contamination, with little focus on food allergy management, if any.

“There is a real opportunity to expand the role of food safety supervisors to educate and advise on best practice food allergy management,” says Maria Said.

Jaclyn Jauhianan, a 24-year-old university student who is allergic to honey and at risk of anaphylaxis to tree nuts, is pleased to see more being done to educate those working in food service about food allergies, saying “I dream about the day when I can eat out with my family and friends without having to be on high alert about my allergies even after I disclose them. When I can trust that the kitchen staff have taken my dietary requirements seriously and haven’t just brushed me off as being ‘fussy’. I know it is my responsibility to clearly communicate, but there definitely needs to be more awareness and education about managing food allergies in the food services industry.”

“It really needs to come from both sides,” continues Ms Said. “We urge customers with food allergies to contact the establishment about their food allergy requirements in advance when making the booking, and then to double check with staff when they arrive that their food allergy requirements have been understood and can be managed. We encourage all cooks and chefs to complete the new All About Allergens training course to ensure they understand their role in preventing food-related allergic reactions, including preventable deaths.”

Common causes of food-related allergic reactions in commercial settings:

  • Wait staff not communicating the customer’s food allergy to cooks and chefs
  • Food service staff presuming a menu choice is fine without checking ingredients
  • A chef or cook not checking ingredients in a garnish
  • Using utensils across multiple food types, including knives, tongs, spoons, etc
  • Not checking the ingredients label on pre-prepared products, e.g. mayonnaise, tomato sauce
  • Suppliers changing ingredients without informing the kitchen staff
  • Mistakes in communications: e.g. delivering special dietary requests to the wrong customer
  • Customers not informing kitchen staff about their allergy
  • Customers not clarifying whether their request is due to an allergy, an intolerance or that they simply dislike something i.e asking, “Does this have egg in it?”

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Allergies: why traceability in food is important

Allergies are a life-altering and life-threatening condition. Daily, up to 20 per cent of patients with allergies face the fear of fatal reactions. Currently worldwide, seven per cent of children have been diagnosed with allergies, compared to just three per cent of the adult population. This  increase demonstrates the need for the food industry to do more to prepare for growing levels of dietary delicacy.

Food manufacturers need to understand this delicate balance, but there are often many barriers stopping them from reporting accurately. From food fraud to confusing or conflicting legislation, the barriers to effective traceability are diverse. However, the risk to consumers is high – even one mistake can cause potentially fatal consequences.

Traceability is the ability to track food through all stages of production, processing and distribution. Most legislation requires producers to be able to trace products one step backwards and one step forwards, at any point in the supply chain. This means that as long as every part of the supply chain is reliable it is hard for ingredients to be mislabeled. It’s simple in theory but can often be a difficult concept to implement.

Food manufacturers need to be compliant with the ISO 22005:2007 standard for traceability in the feed and food chain. However, due to the complexity of modern supply chains, it is harder, but also more vital than ever to have a good overview of the complete process.

To this extent, it is good practice for a food and beverage producer to trace every single ingredient throughout the whole of their supply chain. Not only will this have good business applications, because fully understanding a supply chain will drastically reduce the cost of a recall, but problematic steps or points of contamination will become easier to trace, cutting down the number of products that need to be recalled.

There are tools available to improve traceability, including automated control systems that allow manufacturers to give their product a digital, trackable passport. Recording the details of production digitally through automation systems and feeding them into Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software or Manufacturing Operations Management suite (MOM), will create a comprehensive digital trace.

ERPs and MOMs work by integrating all facets of a business into a single database, allowing an in-depth view of business operations. The systems can then break down a production plant into distinct steps, meaning plant managers can easily identify when a contaminate, or potential contaminant, is present. Producers can then state exactly what is in their product and plant managers can accurately understand how many batches need recalling if issues do occur.

While more than 50 million Americans sufferer from chronic allergies every year, this number is expected to double by 2025. With the rate of people with allergies rising, manufacturers need to prepare their systems for even more detail and reporting for customers. Installing robust traceability can help eradicate unintended allergic reactions, building strong consumer trust and ultimately saving lives.


Debunking the myth about wheat breeding and allergies

New research has debunked the myth that all early varieties of wheat were less allergenic than the varieties grown on Australian farms today.

Charles Sturt University (Charles Sturt) PhD candidate Chris Florides has investigated 170 wheat varieties as part of his research through the Australian Research Council (ARC) Industrial Transformation Centre for Functional Grains (FGC).

“Wheat allergies or gluten intolerance has become a key talking point, not only for people who have diagnosed allergies or consumers who eat gluten-free, but also for wheat breeders and food processors,” Florides said.

“If you search the internet or social media, there’s a lot of speculation that early wheat varieties were not immunogenic and that modern genetic techniques have created wheat varieties that are more allergenic.

“My research examined the allergenicity of wheat varieties grown in Australia from 1860 to 2015, including some original varieties brought from England that were bred to suit Australian conditions. The study found that one of the most allergenic varieties was one grown in the 1800s.”

Florides has also developed a diagnostic method and created databases with information on the allergenicity of these wheat varieties.

“I found there is variation in the levels of allergenicity and it’s hoped varieties with a low content of immunoreactive proteins can now be used in wheat breeding programs and the ones with high content avoided,” Florides said.

“It is not possible to develop completely non-allergenic wheat because the gluten proteins, which are responsible for the immunogenic effects of bread and other wheat products, are necessary for the functionality of the flour used to make these products.

“But I hope that my research will contribute to the development of low-allergenic wheat varieties that could be made into products suitable for people who have mild gluten intolerance.”

FGC Director Professor Chris Blanchard said, “This is an example of the research at the Functional Grains Centre that’s responding to the interest that consumers have regarding the impact of food on their health.

“Ultimately, developing products to meet consumer demands will benefit the entire grains value chain.”

Junk food could be responsible for the food allergy epidemic

Experts at the 52nd Annual Meeting of the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) are today presenting research that shows higher levels of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), found in abundance in junk food, are associated with food allergy in children.

Researchers from the University of Naples ‘Federico II’ observed three groups of children aged between 6-12 years old: those with food allergies, those with respiratory allergies, and healthy controls. They found a significant correlation between subcutaneous levels of AGEs and junk food consumption, and further, that children with food allergies had higher levels of AGEs than those children with respiratory allergies or no allergies at all. The research team also found compelling evidence relating to the mechanism of action elicited by AGEs in determining food allergy.

AGEs are proteins or lipids that become glycated after exposure to sugars and are present at high levels in junk foods – deriving from sugars, processed foods, microwaved foods and roasted or barbequed meats. AGEs are known to play a role in the development of diabetes, atherosclerosis and neurological disorders but this is the first time an association has been found between AGEs and food allergy.

There is growing evidence that food allergy prevalence is increasing, especially amongst young children, and incidence is known to be as high as 10% in some countries. Similarly, there has been a dramatic increase in the consumption of highly-processed foods, comprising up to 50 per cent of total daily energy intake in European countries.

“Existing models of food allergy do not explain the dramatic increase observed in recent years – so dietary AGEs may be the missing link. We need further research to confirm this, strengthening the case for governments to enhance public health interventions to restrict junk food consumption in children,” said principal investigator Roberto Berni Canani.

Isabel Proaño of the European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients’ Associations added:

“Healthcare professionals and patients do not have access to all the necessary knowledge to face a disease that dramatically impacts their quality of life, and industrialised food processing and labelling gaps do not help. We call on the public health authorities to enable better prevention and care of food allergy.”

Webinars to inform professionals about mycotoxins, food allergens/pathogens

Romer Labs, a provider of diagnostic solutions for the agriculture, food and feed industries, will host a series of webinars on analysing contaminants in food and feed. Subjects will cover mycotoxins, food allergens and food pathogens throughout the production and supply chain. The series aims to provide food safety professionals with insight into the latest regulations, current and emerging analytical trends as well as industry perspectives for safe food compliance.

One webinar will concentrate on food allergens in collaboration with Jasmine Lacis-Lee from the Allergen Bureau. Topics will range from recent analytical developments to current allergen management strategies. The webinar will take place on 20 May 2019.

“Romer Labs is constantly at the forefront of diagnostic technology in our mission to make the world’s food safer. The webinars are designed to help manufacturers ensure that their food and feed products are in compliance with regulations and industry standards”, said Yong Wee Liau, managing director of Romer Labs Asia.

The Allergen Bureau is the chief industry body representing allergen management in the food industry in Australia and New Zealand and aims to share information and best practices.

Food allergies are no laughing matter

A generation ago, sufferers of food allergies often avoided eating out, as they could never be sure whether their meal contained something which could sicken or kill them.

Thankfully, awareness of this issue has been on the rise in recent years, making it easier for those affected to dine with confidence.

However, despite the fact one in 20 children and one in 50 adults are affected by this serious issue, some operators still wonder why they need to account for every possible allergy.

The reason for doing so is clear to anyone with a conscience: by exposing those affected to a substance to which they are allergic, a severe anaphylactic reaction can occur. This causes sudden, rapid swelling throughout the body (particularly in the trachea), putting the victim at risk of death if countermeasures (e.g. use of an EpiPen) aren’t quickly introduced.

Recognising the public health threat this posed, the Australian government has made laws which compel packaged food manufacturers to disclose whether their products contain a known food allergen.

The Food Standards Code dictates if your product contains wheat, lupin, soy, fish, shellfish, sesame seeds, eggs, milk, tree nuts, or peanuts, this fact must be disclosed on packaging.

However, if the product was made in a facility where it may have come into contact with an allergenic substance, disclosing this fact is voluntary, and thus, is not mandated by law.

The laws which apply to restaurateurs are a bit laxer. While they are strongly advised to disclose whether a dish contains or may have come into contact with one of the allergens listed above, they also have the option of simply disclosing this information when requested by a customer.

This makes allergy sufferers hesitant to eat at any establishment where clear measures have not been taken to segregate or eliminate known allergens.

For this reason, an increasing number of food service establishments have become more proactive on this front, despite not being legally mandated to do so.

Failing to comply with the above-mentioned legislation can get costly for offending operators. Depending on the severity of the violation and where it takes place, owners can be on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars in fines; in Victoria, those unable or unwilling to pay can face up to six months in jail.

Avoid messy situations like these by taking relevant courses offered by Start Your Own Food Business. An e-learning company which educates new and established entrepreneurs how to run legally compliant, safe, and profitable food businesses in Australia, they possess the knowledge needed to stay out of trouble with the authorities.

Not only will their courses help you stay on the right side of the law, they can also help you avoid being at the centre of a public relations fiasco, the likes of which often occur when news of a food allergic reaction hits social media.

New partnership to develop treatment for peanut allergies

Prota Therapeutics, the developer of oral immunotherapies to treat food allergies, has partnered with Chr. Hansen. The partnership will assess the world’s best documented probiotic strain, LGG, in a Phase III clinical trial to develop a treatment for peanut allergy.

Approximately 220-250 million people globally suffer from food allergies, an increase of 350 per cent over the past 20 years. The economic impact for treatment of food allergies in the US has been estimated at US$24.8 billion per year[1].

Peanut allergy is the most common cause of anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction, and one of the most common causes of death from food allergy2. More than 3 million Americans suffer from peanut allergy3 resulting in a global peanut allergy therapeutics market estimated to reach more than US$10 billion by 20252.

Prota Therapeutics is pioneering a new form of oral immunotherapy treatment. It combines Chr. Hansen’s specifically formulated LGG®4 probiotic strain, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, with targeted doses of proprietary formulations of peanut protein. The treatment is designed to reprogram the immune system’s response to peanuts and eventually develop tolerance.

One of the first Phase III clinical trials with a live microorganism

Building upon earlier trials conducted at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Prota Therapeutics is progressing towards a large-scale Phase III clinical trial, under a US Investigational New Drug Application (IND). The aim is to commercialize a medicinal product using a new pharmaceutical grade therapeutic dosage form for treating peanut allergy, and to explore indications for treating other food allergies.

“An effective therapy to treat peanut allergies is now a realistic target. Chr. Hansen is the ideal partner for us in this next step, both as the owner of one of the key components in the therapeutic product – LGG® – and as a leading expert in microbial solutions. Chr. Hansen has demonstrated the capability to deliver a pharmaceutical quality product that can be regulated as a biological therapeutic product.  Together with our proprietary peanut protein formulation, we aim to progress this through to commercialization of a treatment for peanut allergies,” says Dr. Suzanne Lipe, CEO at Prota Therapeutics.

Unlocking the potential of good bacteria

Numerous studies have highlighted the therapeutic potential of specific bacteria in preventing and treating metabolic, gastrointestinal and other diseases. Investigating specific bacteria for the treatment of food allergies is an area that has recently gained momentum.

Having produced LGG® for more than 10 years before fully acquiring LGG® from Valio in 2016, this new partnership is an example of how Chr. Hansen’s focus on industry leading product quality and clinical documentation can expand the potential of the LGG® probiotic strain into a new breakthrough area.

Christian Barker, Executive Vice President, Health & Nutrition at Chr. Hansen says:

“Chr. Hansen has the ability to maximize the value of a probiotic strain through our deep experience in microbial process development and formulation, our focus on quality, and our global reach. The partnership with Prota Therapeutics is part of our strategy to become the partner of choice for companies wanting to develop new generations of therapeutic microbes.”

According to the company, Lactobacillus rhamnosus is the best documented probiotic strain in the world. It has been used in food, dietary supplements and infant nutrition since 1990 and has shown beneficial effects on the gastrointestinal and immune system. It is supported by more than 300 clinical studies and 1,200 scientific publications.


[1] Gupta R et. al., JAMA Pediatrics 2013; 167(11):1026-103

2 DelveInsight, “Peanut Allergy – Competitive Landscape, Market Insights, Epidemiology and Market Forecast-2025”

3 Sicherer et. al., J Allergy Clin Immunol 2010;125:1322-6

4 LGG® is a trademark of Chr. Hansen

New food allergy resource website for young people

Teens and young people living with severe food allergies are being encouraged to start a conversation with their peers via a new website that could potentially save their lives.

Federal Assistant Minister for Health, Dr David Gillespie said the new Coalition Government funded website,, was developed under the National Allergy Strategy.

“Around 250,000 young Australians live with severe – and potentially life threatening – allergies,” Minister Gillespie said.

“Managing severe food allergies can be a significant challenge for teens and young adults, particularly in social situations, or when starting new relationships.

“If others are aware of their allergy and what to do, it can potentially save their lives in the event of a severe allergic reaction.”

Minister Gillespie said research had found many young people feel too embarrassed to talk about their allergy with their peers.

“The website operates just like an app, and allows young people to develop their own avatar and use it to talk to their friends or others with severe allergies about their experiences,” Minister Gillespie said.

“It’s a step removed from having a face-to-face conversation that may make them uncomfortable, and the avatars can even be used to show how an EpiPen works, without the person having to demonstrate it themselves.

“There’s also practical information for young people on how they can manage their severe allergy.”

Minister Gillespie also announced that the Coalition Government would provide $1.1 million next financial year for the National Allergy Strategy, to help progress the implementation of allergy prevention strategies.

“This new funding demonstrates our commitment to people living with allergies and the challenges they face,” Minister Gillespie said.

He said the Coalition Government also provided support for management and treatment of allergies.

“There are specific Medicare Benefits Schedule items for subsidised chronic disease management consultations and allied health services, while in 2015-16 we spent $37.2 million under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedule on subsidised allergy medications,” Minister Gillespie said.

“We are also investing in allergen research through the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Government’s new Biomedical Translation Fund.

“Other government initiatives to help people to manage severe allergies include allergen information on food labels and guidelines on preventing or managing food allergies in food for infants and in school canteens.”

Food labelling practices putting allergy sufferers ‘at risk’ – study

Food makers which are not prepared to indicate which unlabelled foods are safe to eat are putting Australian with food allergies at risk, according to a study.

The study by the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute addressed the industry’s allergen risk assessment processes.

Companies representing 454 different manufacturing sites in Australia were surveyed, it has been reported by Fairfax.

It was reported that “30 per cent of edible packaged goods on supermarket shelves had been declared safe to eat after a risk assessment for food allergens but still remained unlabelled”.

“This would enable consumers to understand which foods have been through a risk assessment process and which have not,” said senior author, Prof Katie Allen.

“Currently allergy consumers are taking significant risks. This situation is just an accident waiting to happen.”

The most common ingredients that account for more than 90 per cent of food allergies include milk, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and crustacean shellfish.

About one in 20 children and two in 100 adults suffer from a food allergy, the report added.

“It’s become ubiquitous … industry is keen to keen to inform consumers, but they take a ‘zero risk’ approach, that is, if in doubt, put on a label,” Prof Allen added.

Australian Nobel Laureate develops drug to prevent food allergies

A new drug which “fine tunes” the immune system is being developed to help prevent asthma and allergies to foods such as peanuts and shellfish.

Nobel Laureate Professor Barry Marshall from The University of Western Australia is developing an oral treatment called Immbalance, which is designed to restore balance to the immune system and desensitise allergic responses.

Professor Barry Marshall said the drug would harness the immune properties of common bacterium Helicobacter pylori, that naturally resides in the human gut and move the allergic response down into the normal range.

“Studies in the USA show children infected with Helicobacter have a 45 per cent reduction in allergies and asthma,” Professor Marshall said.

“Now in the 21st Century as Helicobacter is disappearing, humans in response have become hyper-reactive to allergies. If we put Helicobacter back in a safe way we can move allergic people back into a normal range.

“By developing an oral product which contains non-viable Helicobacter we can get the immune advantages that Stone Age man used to get by having live bacteria, with none of the disadvantages.”

Professor Marshall’s company, Ondek, based in Perth and Sydney, has been developing the drug for the past seven years and said it can be formulated as tablets, capsules, liquids or powdered product.

“Children could spread the powder on their cereal or put it in a drink and over the course of a few months could supress their allergic response,” he said.

“We think it’s going to be 100 per cent safe. It won’t remove your immune system; it will just take the edge off.”

Australia has one of the highest allergy and asthma rates in the world and over the last 10 years has seen a 10-fold increase in referrals for food allergies, and a five-fold increase in hospital referrals for food-related severe allergy or anaphylaxis.

“It appears when everything is very clean and children aren’t exposed to enough infectious or non-infectious bacteria the immune system can get ramped up,” Professor Marshall said.

“They then can become more reactive to all kinds of new proteins in their diet or susceptible to pollen in the air.”

Professor Marshall will be looking to trial the drug on humans within two years and hopes to make Immbalance available within five years.


Eggs and prawns may be back on menu for allergic kids

A James Cook University scientist is examining ways to reverse the soaring rates of children developing food allergies to common foods such as eggs and prawns.

James Cook University’s Dr Sandip Kamath was recently awarded $318,768 under the 2016 National Health and Medical Research Council’s Grants Round for his research into food allergies.

Dr Kamath’s research, Hypoallergenic proteins as novel immunotherapeutic candidates for food allergy has highlighted the problem.

“Food allergy to shellfish and egg is a serious problem in young children that often leads to severe reactions,” Dr Kamath said.

“The rate of food allergy has tripled over the past decade and is a leading cause of food related anaphylaxis in Australia.

“Allergen immunotherapy can help patients develop tolerance to the allergenic food.”

Dr Kamath said he was studying the allergens identified in these foods and modifying them so the immune system was trained to tolerate the allergen without any severe or accidental reactions.

“Such modified allergenic proteins will be tested further for safety and efficacy to be used as therapeutic agents to treat allergic diseases. The incidence of food allergy has increased over the last two decades, but avoidance is the only current preventive measure. This is an important opportunity to develop new approaches to tackle food allergy in children.”

In coming months, Dr Kamath will work in JCU’s Molecular Allergy Research Laboratory with Professor Andreas Lopata and Professor Alex Loukas.

Loukas will also receive $938,910 for his research into parasitic worms and possible uses for their ‘worm spit’.

“Billions of people in developing countries are infected with parasitic worms, but they have been eradicated from industrialised nations,” Loukas said.

“Humans co-evolved with worms, so their recent removal has deprived us of signals required to keep inflammation in check.

The worm spit, or the molecules that helminths (worms) secrete from their mouths and outer surfaces, enable their parasitic existence.

His project, Helminth secretomes: from vaccines to novel anti-inflammatory biologics, focuses on worm molecules that can be used to develop vaccines to combat these parasitic infections in developing countries, and also promote anti-inflammatory therapeutics in industrialised nations.




Introduce eggs and peanuts early in infants’ diets to reduce the risk of allergies

In the 1970s, when we were in school, food allergies were rare. But Australian children now have the highest rate of food allergy in the world. Up to one in ten infants and two in ten school-aged children have a proven food allergy.

In the 14 years to 2012, there was a 50% increase in hospital visits for anaphylaxis, the most severe allergic reaction. Infants and toddlers accounted for much of this increase.

The most common food allergies are to nine main food proteins: cow’s milk, soy, egg, wheat, peanut, tree nuts, sesame, fish and seafood. Egg and peanut allergies are the most common in infants and toddlers.

New research published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) shows the early introduction of egg (from four to six months) and peanuts (from four to 11 months) is linked to lower rates of egg and peanut allergy.

The researchers analysed the combined results of trials investigating whether food allergens in babies’ diets prevent the development of allergies to these foods. They concluded there was “moderate” certainty that early introduction of egg or peanut was associated with lower risks of egg and peanut allergy.

They also found that early introduction of gluten (wheat) was not associated with an increased risk of coeliac disease.

Further reading: Everything you need to know about coeliac disease (and whether you really have it)

The researchers used the term “moderate certainty” because the review is based on a mix of studies with different designs and of varying quality. Feeding studies can also be difficult to “blind”; for some studies participants and researchers knew who was given egg or peanut, so were open to some bias.

As a result, the authors say more work needs to be done to better understand the precise optimal timing for introducing eggs and peanuts.

Nonetheless, these findings affirm the recently updated Australian infant feeding consensus guidelines. These state that when parents introduce solids – at around six months but not before four months – they should also introduce previously avoided foods such as peanut and egg. This should occur in the baby’s first year of life.

The problem is, there have been so many changes to guidelines over the last few decades that parents are no longer sure what to believe.

In Australia, dietary recommendations aiming to reduce the risk of food allergies began to appear in the early 1990s. They recommended infants avoid certain foods such as egg and peanut. These guidelines were largely based on outcomes of trials focusing on the mother avoiding allergens during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.

In 2008, a number of research projects (including our own) questioned whether these older studies were flawed because they had not adequately adjusted the results to account for the fact that those with a family history of allergies adhere to recommendations better than those without, thus biasing the result.

These new studies accounted for this fact. We found, paradoxically, that earlier introduction of foods such as egg and peanut, at around six months, appeared to protect against food allergy. This has resulted in a complete rethink in our approach to preventing food allergy.

(Note that these findings relate to the prevention of food allergies, not the management, which remains unchanged. Children with food allergies should continue to avoid those foods.)

Based on this research, feeding guidelines began stating that earlier introduction did not increase the risk of food allergy and may indeed be protective.

These recommendations were strengthened this year after research trials tested the effect of eating common allergens (in particular, peanut) in the first year of life compared with completely avoiding them. The guidelines now recommend that exposure to egg, peanut and other foods frequently associated with food allergy should occur in the first year of life to offer protection.

It’s still not clear if this approach alone will prevent the whole food allergy epidemic. Some children will still develop food allergies despite following the feeding guidelines.

We know the tendency to develop allergic disease is inherited, but environmental factors, including the microbiome, vitamin D levels, migration effects, the number of siblings and exposure to pets also all appear to play influential roles, as does the presence of early onset eczema. Research trials are investigating the role these factors play in the development of food allergy risk.

In the meantime, experts agree there appears to be a window of opportunity in the first year of life where exposure to foods such as peanut and egg decreases the risk of allergy to these foods. Diet diversity remains an important part of a healthy diet.

For the most recent infant feeding guidelines and information about introducing solid foods to infants, visit the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy website.

The Conversation

Merryn Netting, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Healthy Mothers, Babies and Children’s Theme; South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute; Affiliate Lecturer, The University of Adelaide, University of Adelaide and Katie Allen, Paediatric Gastroenterologist and Allergist, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Top Image: Andy Lim/Shutterstock



Figures show Australia is food allergy capital of world

Australia has the highest level of food allergies in the world and Melbourne is the food allergy capital of the world, according to research.

As Yahoo7News reports, two in every 100 Australian adults are affected by food allergies, while the figure rises to one in 10 for infants.

The rates of these allergies in the western world has been rising for the past 20 years and, as Professor Katie Allen from Murdoch Childrens Research Institute told the Age, there are several theories regarding what is causing this change.

Genetics, over-cleanliness, and vitamin D deficiencies have all been identified as possible causes of the rise in allergies. And another possible cause, distance from the equator, explains why Melbourne has the highest food allergy rate in this country.

The International Congress of Immunology, being held in Melbourne this week, is examining the problem.

Australia is seen as a world leader in this field and, in May, the Centre for Food & Allergy Research (CFAR) Australian Infant Feeding Guidelines Summit released new guidelines. These include:

  1. When your infant is ready, at around six months, but not before four months, start to introduce a variety of solid foods, starting with iron rich foods, while continuing breastfeeding.
  2. All infants should be given allergenic solid foods including peanut butter, cooked egg, dairy and wheat products in the first year of life. This includes infants at high risk of allergy.
  3. Hydrolysed (partially or extensively) infant formula are not recommended for prevention of allergic disease.


Researchers close to developing non-allergenic peanuts

Researchers at the University of Western Australia say they have taken a significant step in developing ‘super’ peanuts that don’t cause allergic reactions. reports that the UWA scientists have joined a global research team which includes organisations such as the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).

By decoding the DNA of peanuts they identified genes which, if altered, could prevent allergic reactions.

Professor Rajeev Varshney, Research Program Director- Genetic Gains from ICRISAT and also Winthrop Research Professor with UWA’s Institute of Agriculture and School of Plant Biology was involved in the research.

“This discovery brings us that one step closer to creating peanuts that will have significant benefits globally,” Varshney said.

“We will also be able to produce peanuts that have more health benefits with improved nutritional value.”

About three per cent of Australians are allergic to peanuts.


Coconut drink blamed for boy’s death

A Sydney-base importer of coconut milk, Narkena Pty Ltd has pleaded guilty to three labelling and packaging charges in a sentence hearing this week after a 10-year old boy died from an anaphylactic shock.

The NSW Food Authority prosecuted the importer who recalled the Greentime Natural Coconut Drink in 2013, with Narkena business manager Perry Wu confirming a lack of specific testing.
It found that the drink was falsely labelled and sold in a manner that contravened the Food Standards Code and could be charged $10,000 on each account.

NSW president of Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia, Maria Said says she was dismayed that it had taken two years for similar products to be investigated, even after the coconut milk blamed for the boy’s death was found to contain cow’s milk.

Coconut milk drink recalls

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has urged consumers with a dairy allergy to be aware of recent recalls. In these recalls dairy products were present in the product but were not declared on the product label, as required under the Food Standards Code.            

FSANZ says it is aware of two reported cases of anaphylactic reactions associated with the consumption of coconut milk drinks.  

Food enforcement agencies in the states and territories and the Department of Agriculture are investigating similar products. 

As a precautionary measure, the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture is inspecting all imports of the recalled products, to ensure the labels now declare the presence of allergens, and is working to identify and inspect other imported coconut milk drinks. If milk products are not declared on the label, samples will be sent for testing to determine whether an undeclared allergen is present and further recalls may be possible. 

The Department of Agriculture has also provided information to industry about these recalls and is working with the NSW Food Authority and other regulators to identify and contact other businesses that import coconut milk drinks to make them aware of the recalls and request they check and confirm their allergen labelling is correct.