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Novel study helps allergy sufferers make right choice

A novel real-world study of consumers with food allergies has helped establish new standards of food labelling throughout Europe.

The 14-month research project, funded by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), has informed national policy, advice to the retail industry and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) negotistions on food information regulation.

Estimates suggest that more than 130,000 children aged 13 to 19 years old suffer from food allergies. There are an estimated 103 anaphylaxis episodes for 100,000 person years, with food causing at least 30% of these.

In light of this, the FSA wanted to better understand the choices of consumers with food allergies and, in 2009, reader in healthcare research Dr Julie Barnett led a team first at the University of Surrey and then at Brunel University London to find the answers.

The unique study involved 32 adults with diagnosed peanut and tree nut allergies, who were recruited to make food purchasing choices on an accompanied shop in their usual supermarket, through a detailed interview process and via a product choice reasoning task.

In each instance, participants used a range of strategies to make a choice of what they should eat and what risks they should take, and food labels weren't the only method used to decide their course of action.

The evidence, adopted by the FSA, has been used to develop regulations affecting the practices adopted by all food manufacturers and retailers. The findings also appeared in the FSA survey protocol on advisory labelling.