Food safety and quality

One thousand days of food allergens assessment


Two years later, as we faced the published report, many of us remembered that distant day when we opened a link to see the call to work on food allergens from FAO and WHO.

FAO Food Safety Officer Kang Zhou reflects on the adventure leading up to the compilation of such an international scientific report, likening the style to that of a literary masterpiece by Gabriel García Márquez. Starting from the recollection, or memory, in this case of the call for experts and the call for data. Some work can be done individually, but other work needs people from different regions, also considering gender balance. Some may be to enrich the imagination, some may be to ensure the everyday reality – food safety.

As many of our stories have highlighted before, there is no need to reiterate the importance of this work on food allergens. Nevertheless, it is interesting to see how all the puzzle pieces come together, and that the report, like Rome, wasn’t built in a day.

To deliver the most sound and objective scientific advice for this meeting, the FAO and WHO secretariats prepared it in an inclusive, transparent, fair and accountable manner during the eight months before it actually took place, which is what we mentioned in the beginning – starting with the call for experts and data. This includes the selection of experts, compiling the data and preparing all the technical and administrative documents. Not surprisingly, there is always more work behind the scenes, as the work was underway long before the call was issued. Time is needed to summarize the requests from the Codex Alimentarius Commission and any other food safety concerns holistically, to carve out terms of reference for the call and the coming meeting.

The most fascinating and intriguing moments happened during the expert meeting itself, which lasted about three weeks in a virtual format (and would have been one or two weeks in person). Scientists from all over the world discussed the topic as far and deeply as all the current available scientific evidence could support, and reached a consensus at the end of the meeting. For example, what kinds of food allergens should we be aware of, and how do we know they are THE ones.

The same way the work starts before the starting point, the work never ends at the finish line, as there is a meeting report on the way. It is almost like a new beginning for the experts to capture everything that was discussed during the meeting to craft this report afterwards. There is a lot of back and forth to discuss the light and shine the science brought, but it always ends with wonderful pieces coming together, including a summary report in about three months and a full report in about 14 months.

This work of ours, the recommendations and the reports, will be used by governments from different countries to strengthen and improve food safety in a rapid developing and changing world. Another interesting story, but out of our scope here.

Returning to the story of this food allergen report, I wish to remind readers of the many stories of food allergens that we have released. Hope the above helps to involve you more when reading this new food allergen report, like everyone involved.

Of utmost importance, the 1st allergen report, ready for download

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