Analysis of Allergens in Food (Module 4)

Food allergen management is becoming embedded in food-safety management undertaken by the food industry and therefore has quality assurance as its underpinning philosophy. This means systems are designed and maintained which aim to ensure that untoward events do not occur which span the food chain, from primary production through to point-of-sale. 

For many food hazards, these systems are validated and verified, but it is much less well developed for food allergens, partly because the evidence base and risk assessment approaches have lacked data (Module 3). Implementing such quality assurance approaches requires the availability of tools able to determine effectively allergenic food protein(s) to monitor either factory cleaning, ingredients or finished products.

The current lack of such tools and their integration into food allergen management plans means that food manufacturers and retailers have often had to resort to the use of precautionary ‘may contain’ labelling in a manner which has lacked transparency.

Multi-analyte allergen analysis

An integrated tool box of multi-analyte immuno- and mass spectrometry methods for detection and quantitation of allergens in foods will be developed.

This will be achieved through the development of common extraction protocols and use of clinically-validated matrices as check samples. Proof-of-concept will be established for such methods for peanut-treenuts such as hazelnut and walnut and egg-milk. Immunobased tools will be developed suitable for both on-site testing explicitly linked to mass spectrometry methods for in-laboratory confirmation of test results for raw materials through to finished food products.

Clinically-relevant analysis

For analytical tools to effectively support food allergen and allergy management it is essential they are fit for purpose in terms of sensitivity, specificity and precision and that they provide meaningful data that can be related to the inherent allergenicity of an ingredient in a given food matrix.

This is more complex for allergens than for other small molecule chemical hazards because allergens are not well defined.

This is because they are proteins and can adopt different forms following food processing The detection of allergenic ingredients by mass spectrometry and immuno-based tools will be related to their allergenic activity, alone and after formulation into the model matrices. This will enable us to, uniquely, ensure the biological validity of the methods developed for allergen detection and provide clinical verification of a relevant reference material.