Michael Walker, consultant science manager and referee analyst for the Government Chemist, had three posters at the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI) allergy event earlier this month in Ireland.
Walker presented a paper which he wrote with colleagues on production of a peanut quality control material to improve allergen analysis.
“Flawed allergen analysis hinders measurement of allergens, which is important for food labelling, defining threshold levels and detecting food fraud,” said the researchers.
“ELISA, DNA and MS can be used to detect food allergens, but there are quantification problems with all three.
“Although ELISA is currently the most commonly applied technique and it can detect the presence of most protein allergens in foods, it can struggle with recovery and accurate quantification.
“A well characterised quality control material, ideally a certified reference material, is needed to improve the reliability of results of allergen analysis. However, there are practical difficulties with production of reference materials which are often overlooked.
“These include ensuring sufficient homogeneity and long term stability, assessing the incurred quantity, and maintaining a relationship with the concentrations that affect allergy sufferers.”
In the second paper, Walker presented work with colleagues on ‘Deadly fraud – food allergen substitution in the food chain’.
The work described eight cases involving food allergy fatalities, personal injury, or criminal non-compliance with law.
Codex Alimentarius General Standard for Labelling harmonises labelling globally for eight major allergens.
The Food Information Regulation, (1169/2011) enforceable from 13 December 2014 extends labelling requirements for 14 allergen groups to non-pre-packed food including catering.
The third paper was an introduction to an electronic food sensitivity knowledge platform which can be found here.
Professor Jonathan Hourihane, Cork, Professor Clare Mills, Manchester and Professor Montserrat Fernandez Rivas, Spain led the FAAM event.
Walker told FoodQualityNews.com that it tried to help patients move from controlling their food allergy to a cure.
“This is a challenging vision requiring cutting edge science and medicine relating to allergen biology, nutritional support and innovative approaches to patient care and food safety," he said.
“There is enormous social and economic costs. People who have allergies may have a poor quality of life and while death is rare it overshadows a familiar lifestyle. There have been a proliferation of ‘may contain’ labels which is the food industry’s attempt to inform customers."
Walker said it is not easy for people with allergies to know what labelling means in all cases.
“Allergy also has a forensic perspective with substitution in the food chain. We need more training to ensure the supply chain is protected from substitution," he said.
“With allergen analysis, good quality control and reference materials are needed to make allergen measurements more comparable, more robust and consistent.”