A team of food safety experts in the U.K. is calling for an international and interdisciplinary approach to improve food allergen analysis. The researchers contend that all current analytical approaches have severe deficiencies that jeopardize accurate results, risk false positive and false negative reporting, and inadequately address vulnerabilities in the food supply chain.
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Professor Chris Elliott, founder of Queen’s University’s Institute for Global Food Security in Belfast, Ireland, says that the food supply is “highly vulnerable to fraud involving food allergens” and that cross-contamination during production, processing, and transport remains a problem. Elliott is an author of “Is food allergen analysis flawed? Health and supply chain risks and a proposed framework to address urgent analytical needs,” which was published in Analyst, a journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry.
The CDC has stated that the prevalence of reported food allergy in the U.S. increased 18 percent from 1997 to 2007 among children under age 18. Children with food allergy are two to four times as likely to have other allergic conditions and asthma and thus more likely to experience anaphylactic reactions to food, according to the CDC. According to the FDA, about 30,000 Americans go to the emergency room each year for severe food allergies.
Elliott’s report recommends several areas where analytical improvement is “urgently needed” to address significant gaps. One is the need for an international program that would widen the scope of proteomics and genomics bioinformatics to address problems in various forms of analysis, including enzyme linked immunosorbent assays, mass spectrometry, and polymerase chain reaction assay approaches. The experts recommend that bioinformatics studies should model how best to predict which allergens are present in foods and specifically what quantities of these allergens could adversely the health of a person with food allergies.
Another proposal is that a coordinated international program should develop properly characterized reference materials and calibrants for allergen analysis. The program should progress to allergens in processed foods that represent a suitable spectrum of protein, lipid, and carbohydrate compositions. That would be followed by production of certified reference materials.
Elliott says that production of these reference materials could “support threshold decisions—samples of foods with known, controlled amounts of allergens present to allow for checks on the accuracy of allergen testing methods.”
The team calls for development of a global multidisciplinary consortium that would bring together the analytical, food science, and clinical communities with patient support groups, representatives of food manufacturers, and regulatory agencies.