Together with scientists from Fresenius University in Idstein and Geisenheim University the objective is to improve test methods for detection of hazelnut and almond allergens.
The federal state of Hesse is providing €330,000 of funding from the LOEWE program for the project which runs until the end of 2018.
The most widely used method for allergen analysis is an antibody-based assay such as enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA).
However, the tests have limits as nuts can hardly be detected in processed foods (baked or roasted).
Current problems and potential solution
Dr Susanne Siebeneicher, R&D food allergens at R-Biopharm, said current ELISAs have problems with the detection of roasted or heated nuts.
“They are not able to detect them the higher the heating temperature. But the European law says that nuts have to be labelled on packages, since they can induce allergic symptoms. It does not mention whether nuts are roasted or raw. So both have to be detected,” she told FoodQualityNews.
“The goal of the project is to develop an ELISA which can detect roasted and raw nuts and quantify the amount in food.
“It will just be a further development of our current ELISA, so for customers using the current system nothing will change, only that they will detect roasted as well as raw nuts.”
Currently the ELISA uses specific antibodies for detection of nut proteins which cannot detect roasted peanuts, said Siebeneicher.
“With the help of liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS at Fresenius University), the experience in industrial roasting (Geisenheim) and the experience in the development of ELISAs and protein extraction (R-Biopharm), the project should be realised,” she said.
“With the LC-MS/MS, specific proteins, which are present in raw and roasted nuts will be identified and antibodies against these proteins will be generated. These antibodies in combination with a new extraction will help to analyse roasted and raw nuts.”
Siebeneicher said if results are good and reliable within a short time period it may look into other allergens.
R-Biopharm hopes to have a prototype at the end of 2018 which has the potential to become a product in 2019.
Allergen detection importance
Foods are regularly tested for allergenic components by industry and commercial and public laboratories.
A product containing even small amounts of nuts without labelling can be fatal for allergy sufferers.
Ronald Niemeijer, director global marketing food and feed analysis, said LC-MS for allergen testing is probably not a method a typical food testing lab will be able to use routinely, due to high instrumentation cost and complexity of the method.
“Lateral flow tests, on the other hand will not give you a quantitative result. ELISA is a globally well-accepted, easy to use method, particularly valuable when higher sample numbers need to be tested at the same time,” he told us.
“Therefore we think ELISA is the first method of choice for allergen testing, whenever a quantitative result is required, or alternatively, PCR based methods.”