Geert Houben

Professor Food-borne Risk Factors for Allergic and Inflammatory Diseases

UMC Utrecht and TNO collaborate in research on food-borne risk factors for allergic and inflammatory diseases. We develop and apply methods to identify and characterize food-borne risk factors that influence the inflammatory state of our body.

Research area

A good inflammatory balance is crucial for our health. On the one hand we need inflammatory processes, on the other hand they have to be controlled and suppressed. The inflammatory balances are determined by an interplay between intrinsic properties (such as our genome) and extrinsic factors.

The most abundant exposure to extrinsic factors is through our food, but we actually know very little about which and how food-borne factors affect our immune system. The role of the intestinal microbiome and particularly its metabolites are of course very important, but on its turn, the intestinal microbial metabolome is also strongly influenced by what we eat. And also in this respect, we know very little about which factors do this in which way and how that influences immune functions.

Our research aims to elucidate how we can use diet as an intervention or to support interventions in immune health, to develop better diagnosis, patient stratification, and population and personalized management, therapy and prevention of inflammatory diseases.

Recent results

Food allergy is one of the major inflammatory diseases and a major cause of loss of health, loss of quality of life, and losses due to food recalls. These losses are mainly due to difficulties that food business operators and authorities experience in implementing quantitative risk assessment and risk management principles for food allergens.

During past decades, we have become world leading in the development of quantitative risk assessment and risk management approaches in food allergy. A major milestone was achieved in 2020 when we published Eliciting Dose values for 14 major allergenic foods, derived from the largest threshold database worldwide, jointly owned with the Food Allergy Research and Resources Program (FARRP) of the University of Nebraska, and hosted at TNO.

These publications enable risk assessors in industry as well as authorities to use this information for state-of-the-art food allergen risk assessment and risk management. Based on this work, a Joint Expert Committee of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2021 established health based guidance values (Reference Doses) for priority allergenic foods (2nd-allergen-summary-report-20aug2021.pdf (

Using methods also developed and substantiated by TNO and UMC Utrecht research, these reference doses can be used to calculate action levels for precautionary allergen labeling. Implementation of these science-based action levels can help prevent potentially life-threatening situations for food-allergic consumers and will significantly improve the quality of life of people with a food allergy and their environment, but will also help reduce the frequency of food allergen-related product recalls.

PhD supervision

  • Smits (TNO Shared Research Program Food Allergy; Finnish Strategic Research Council)
  • Versluis (NVWA; UMCU in kind funding)
  • Meima (TNO Roadmap Biomedical Health)

Top publications

  • Houben et al. Full range of population Eliciting Dose values for 14 priority allergenic foods and recommendations for use in risk characterization. Food and Chemical Toxicology. 2020; 146: 111831
  • Blom et al. Allergen labelling: Current practice and improvement from a communication perspective. Clin Exp Allergy. 2021; 51: 574–584.
  • Holleman et al. Poor understanding of allergen labelling by allergic and non-allergic consumers. Clin Exp Allergy. 2021; 51: 1374–1382
  • Turner et al. Peanut Can Be Used as a Reference Allergen for Hazard Characterization in Food Allergen Risk Management: A Rapid Evidence Assessment and Meta-Analysis. J Allergy Clin Immunol Pract. 2022; 10: 59-70


Princetonlaan 6
NL-3584 CB Utrecht

Postal address

P.O. Box 80015
NL-3508 TA Utrecht