Between 12 and 20% of Americans, British and Dutch people complain about food allergies. In fact, problems are more likely to be due to food intolerance rather than actual allergy. This has been confirmed by skin-prick tests, analysis of immunoglobulin E level in serum, and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) tests which found food intolerance in 2 to 5% of adults and 6 to 13% of children (age 1 to 6) in Europe. Challenge-proved adverse reaction to food is one tenth of that perceived and allergic reactions to chemicals and additives in food are even more rare. A similar ratio occurs in Asia. The dietary habits in different countries determine the observed rates of food sensitivities. Sensitivity to fish occurs frequently in Scandinavia, to rice in Japan, to peanuts in the U.S. and the U.K., and to seafood and milk in Italy. It also means that communities not exposed to particular allergens are not affected as frequently by various forms of sensitivities, e.g., allergy to peanuts is rare in Scandinavia where peanuts are not a popular snack, and allergy to seafood is uncommon in populations separated from bodies of water (Samartin et al., 2001). Artificial additives, industrial pollutants, and other chemicals present in contemporary food are often blamed for the increasing rates of food allergies (Halstensen et al., 1997). In the draft proposal for European Council and Parliament Directive III/5909/97 (16 January, 1998), a so-called 'hit list' of major serious allergens (MSAs), which contains ten food ingredients or substances that have to be indicated as allergenic or incompatibility inducing, was presented. Foods and ingredients that are recognized as being responsible for increased allergenic sensitivity, and which have to be declared on lists of ingredients, include:
• cereals containing gluten and their products
• crustaceans and their products
• eggs and their products
• fish and fish products
• peanuts and peanut products
• soybeans and their products
• milk and milk products (including lactose)
• tree nuts and nut products
• sulfite at concentration of 10 mg per kg or more
Because such components may be inactivated during food processing and lose their potential allergenic properties, e.g., refined peanut oil, problems for both legislation (to label such food or not?) and analysis (how to detect antigens in processed food?) will most certainly occur soon. A precise threshold value for each allergenic food product or substance (the level at which adverse effects are produced) will inevitably be needed to replace the use of the 5% maximum level for allergic components in foods (suggested by Codex Alimentarius). Unfortunately, this will require novel analytical tools and equipment and will definitely lead to an increase in the prices of 'allergen-free' products.
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