Two Major Food Allergy Firsts in North America


Published: 18Mar2003
Groundbreaking results from a major study on the prevalence of peanut allergy - An innovation for the food industry

Montreal, March 18, 2003 - To celebrate the Journée Québécoise des allergies alimentaires next Friday March 21, the Association québécoise des allergies alimentaires (AQAA) and the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) announced today results from the first Quebec study on the prevalence of peanut allergy. AQAA also took advantage of the occasion to launch an ambitious program for the certification of allergen free products.

Peanut allergies may be on the rise in Quebec
The rationale for the Quebec study was to estimate the prevalence of peanut allergy in an heterogeneous population of Montreal schoolchildren between 5-9 years of age. Final study results will soon be submitted for publication. However, preliminary findings, presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology by MUHC clinicians, Dr. Rhoda Kagan and Dr. Ann E. Clarke, already offer groundbreaking results.

"We show that the prevalence of peanut allergies in Quebec children is higher than anticipated", says Dr Ann E. Clarke, MUHC immunologist and a senior investigator of the study. "Data analysis for the first year of our 2-year study shows that the prevalence in Montreal of peanut allergies is about 1.5 percent, whereas most previous North American and European estimates were about 0.5 percent. This means that in a school of 1000 students, 15 children will be affected, instead of 5. "
Clarke and her colleagues evaluated approximately 8000 elementary students from 63 Montreal primary schools. The parents of the students were asked to fill out questionnaires about the types of peanut foods that the children ate or the type of reaction that children experienced. Some children had additional allergy tests and food challenges.

Peanut is the main cause of fatal food anaphylaxis. "We must try to minimize this risk," states Dr. Rhoda Kagan who believes that, " Future research must focus on preventing this allergy and finding treatment options for those affected by it."
This research was conducted in collaboration with the Association québécoise des allergies alimentaires and was funded by the Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec (FRSQ), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), and Health Canada. Some initial funding was provided by Novartis Pharmaceuticals.

Certified allergen free : soon on labels!
AQAA also launched today an ambitious new program designed to certify food products to be free of specific allergens, namely peanut free, egg free or milk free products. A pictogram will appear on labels to assure people with allergies that products comply with production and safety standards.

A major challenge facing people with allergies today is being able to buy food with peace of mind. Lately consumers have become desperate trying to find their way amidst the wide variety of warnings like "May contain traces of …(peanut, milk, egg, etc.)." For Claire Dufresne, Director General of AQAA, this has become a major concern since, "some allergic consumers are so exasperated that they prefer to ignore warnings and eat products that may put their lives in danger." Dufresne believes that a serious and rigorous allergen free certification program will help both consumers and the food industry in a win-win situation.

The Association québécoise des allergies alimentaires was created in 1990 to provide support and information, and to promote education, prevention, and research on food allergy and anaphylaxis. To fulfill this mission, AQAA offers services and activities, including: allergen free cookbooks, support lines, a quarterly newsletter Les mets sages, workshops, special events, etc. For more information, call (514) 990-2575 or visit

Contact Information

Christine Zeindler
MUHC Public Relations and Communications
christine.zeindler [at]
Office Phone: 
514-934-1934 ext. 36419