Food safety and quality

FAO/WHO committee determines hazardous amounts for food allergens


As many as 500 million people around the world have to be careful about what they eat because certain foods can cause a dangerous allergic reaction, and even be life-threatening. But how much of substance is enough to cause a reaction? That was a question for a joint FAO-WHO committee in March 2021, when the second in a series of three meetings was held on foodborne allergens.

During their first meeting, which began in December 2020, the Ad hoc Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on Risk Assessment of Food Allergens recommended to Codex Alimentarius Commission, the body responsible for establishing international standards for food safety, that the following foods should be considered as allergens and listed on food packaging labels:

  • cereals containing gluten

  • crustacea

  • eggs

  • fish

  • milk

  • peanuts

  • sesame

  • tree nuts (almond, cashew, hazelnut, pecan, pistachio and walnut).

“The most recent meeting was an important next step in the process,” said Kang Zhou, FAO Food Safety Officer. “Not only have the experts prioritized which foods need the most attention, but now the experts have recommended threshold amounts of these allergens that would likely cause problems for allergic consumers if they were eaten,” he said. This information will provide the foundation to inform risk management and risk mitigation strategies to protect the public.

In addition to establishing the threshold values, the committee also reviewed the information about currently available diagnostic tests to detect allergens in food and the food processing environment to ensure that food manufacturers and regulators have at their disposal the analytical tools and tests to be able to detect the low levels of allergens that could be problematic.

The final meeting in the series, scheduled for October 2021, will be about communicating with the consumer – how to use precautionary allergen labelling (PAL) on pre-packaged foods to let the consumer know a product may contain a substance they are allergic to.

The summary report for this second meeting is now available, and includes the recommended individual reference doses for each of the priority allergens along with the approach, considerations and conclusions drawn. The official meeting report is under development and will be made available here once completed.

Read more in the summary report

See the news story about the previous meeting on allergens

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