UK – The Food Standards Agency (FSA)  and the Food Standards Agency Scotland (FSS)  have based on the lack of reports of adverse reactions to refined rapeseed oil in the UK population, and lack of evidence of severe illness or deaths, hinted the frequency of allergic reactions to refined rapeseed oil to be very low.

This is after it received proposals to substitute sunflower oil with refined rapeseed oil as food businesses dread that UK supplies of sunflower oil are likely to be exhausted due to the war in Ukraine.

Around 80% of the UK’s sunflower oil comes from Ukraine with Russia making up a significant portion of the remaining 20%.

It is highly unlikely that industry will be able to re-label products as quickly as oil substitutions may occur, which could lead to the presence of mis-labelled products on the market, hence possible allergic reactions.

Food allergy involves an adverse immune reaction triggered by normally harmless protein antigens in food. In the UK there are 14 types of food or food groups that are recognized as allergenic foods of public health importance and therefore regulated.

They include, celery, cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, eggs, fish, lupin, milk, molluscs, mustard, nuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, soya and sulphur dioxide.

These 14 must be labelled on food and they make up the majority of foods that people may experience an allergic reaction to. Rapeseed is not included in the list of 14 allergens.

However theoretically any food that contains protein could elicit an allergenic response in a sensitized individual, and this would include rapeseed oil. Rapeseeds contain approximately 40% oil and 17-26% protein.

According to an ongoing FSA funded research project investigating the prevalence of food allergy in the UK adult population, out of 1673 respondents, only 1 reported adverse reactions to rapeseed oil. Nevertheless, currently this is self-reported information only as clinical confirmation of this person’s allergy is yet to be released.

The final results are expected to be published at the end of the year.

Severity of rapeseed oil allergy

FSA and FSS also contacted three leading UK allergy specialists, including Dr Paul Turner, Reader in Paediatric Allergy & Clinical Immunology at Imperial College London and Dr George Raptis, Consultant in Paediatric Allergy, Glasgow, to seek expert opinion on the prevalence and severity of rapeseed allergy.

The two doctors noted that in their more than 20 years career, they have never heard of anyone reacting to refined rapeseed oil in the UK, suggesting that the allergy to refined rapeseed oil is very rare in the UK in both adults and children.

Further, the FSA-funded NHS data project which examined data relating to hospital admissions for anaphylaxis and deaths in the UK during a 20-year period from 1998-2018, did not find any information in the literature regarding hospitalization or deaths linked to the consumption of rapeseed oil outside the UK.

However, the two agencies noted that they lack specific data from industry or the literature on the amount of protein that may be present in refined rapeseed oil, or the amounts of unrefined rapeseed oil that may be included in finished products and consumed on a single eating occasion when substituted for sunflower oil.

As such they cannot carry out exposure assessments.

This is because exposure assessment for allergens in ingredients usually involves taking into account the concentration of allergenic protein that may be present in the ingredient, what proportion of the final product will comprise the ingredient, and the reference amount (i.e. the amount of the food eaten on a typical eating occasion.

The ability to carry out exposure assessment is further limited by the lack of an eliciting dose for rapeseed proteins to compare likely doses with in order to determine whether susceptible individuals may react at any given dose.

Hence FSA and FSS have relied on the lack of clinically verified reports of allergic reactions to refined rapeseed oil by UK consumers to imply that the level of protein in refined rapeseed oil may be too low to elicit a reaction.

The data in the literature on symptoms caused by rapeseed oil protein allergy is very limited. Symptoms reported include facial urticaria and abdominal symptoms and may suggest that oilseed rape could trigger an allergic response in young children with atopic dermatitis.

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