Detecting Allergens in Processed Foods
Food producers are increasingly looking to food allergen analysis as a means of emphasizing greater transparency, traceability and integrity in the supply chain. While this growing awareness has extended to validation and verification of factory cleaning and investigation of recalls and incidents, producers are also investigating new ways to detect allergens in processed foods. Food allergen expert Adrian Rogers explores how incurred samples might show the way forward.
Most of the food and drink we consume has been processed or modified in some way. This processing brings about many benefits in terms of food safety, preservation and taste. However, processing changes the characteristics of the ingredients used to make the food; of particular interest are the changes that allergenic proteins can undergo. There are many kinds of changes relevant to allergen detection: allergenic proteins can be subjected to heat-accelerated chemical reactions including Maillard reactions and other protein-carbohydrate interactions, protein aggregation with loss of solubility, shear effects on protein structure, emulsion formation, pH effects, and water activity during food production. Recent studies have shown that processing allergens can alter their allergenicity, changing how an allergic individual may react to them. If immunoassay-based food allergen detection methods rely on the use of antibodies to detect allergens present in food, it follows that the ability to detect them may be affected by processing.
Such processing effects must be taken into account when developing new analytical methods, either by improved extraction methods intended to increase the solubility of the aggregated proteins or by going back to basics and raising new sets of antibodies that specifically target processed allergens.