Safe Food II: Detection of Food Allergens by HPLC-MS/MS

The Safe Food II project is dealing with the development of analytical methods to analyze and quantify food allergens by using High Pressure Liquid Chromatography (HPLC), coupled to tandem mass spectrometry (MS/MS). Allergenic proteins are examples for naturally occurring threats especially for allergic people. In general, these proteins have to be avoided by the allergic consumer because of their great potential to cause an allergic response by the immune system. Prevention is only an effective measure if it can be ensured that the allergens are absent in food where they are not expected to occur, hence precise analytical quantification methods are increasingly needed to guarantee the proper labeling of these ingredients on food packages.

Allergens are large molecules and need to be split into smaller peptides prior to be measured in a system such as HPLC-MS/MS. Therefore, sample extracts are denatured to unfold their structure, further digested with the enzyme trypsin to cut the proteins into smaller pieces (peptides), which can then be analyzed in the mass spectrometer. Each allergen shows its very characteristic pattern based on the unique mass-to-charge ratio of each substance. Due to the lack of analytical methods for allergen detection, such methods are highly promising alternatives in the near future. Furthermore, reference materials for allergens are not available yet. However, if characterization techniques based on mass spectrometry can be established, such methods may be the indispensable basis for well characterized reference materials. To speed up the time for sample analysis a “multi-allergen HPLC-MS/MS” method, which allows a simultaneous measurement of all relevant food allergens from one sample, should be implemented. This is a challenging task in respect to the high number of different allergens and also due to the numerous food matrices we are going to include in our studies.

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