Food allergens are defined as proteins in food thatinteract with the immune system to cause allergic reactions.Allergenic foods present a health risk for some consumers as they can experience allergenic reactions like wheezing, vomiting, hives, stomach upset, eczema, allergic rhinitis, bronchospasm (asthma-like symptoms) and even anaphylaxis which can cause death. Food allergens often exist in large quantities and can even survive food processing. So in order to protect consumers from potential health risks, food manufacturers have their products tested for food allergens in food testing laboratories.
Transfer of allergens
In the food industry, manufacturers use the same facility and equipment for processing a number of food products. Therefore, when switching over from processing one product to the next, they sanitise the equipment to prevent any cross contamination. However, allergenic foods from the previous processing could unintentionally enter food products that do not contain allergens. Therefore, companies that process both non-allergen containing foods as well as foods that are known allergens always label all their food products with names of possible food allergens. This labelling is of a precautionary nature as it states that the food product ‘may contain’ for example peanuts, gluten etc. and they use food allergen label on all the food products made in their facility even if they are not-allergens.
Need for food allergen testing
Food allergen labelling cautions allergic consumers but it also limits their choice of foods. In order to give all consumers a wider food choice food manufacturers get their food products tested for food allergens from testing labs. They have food allergen testing carried out on a regular basis so they can rule out the presence of potential food allergen contamination in their products. Food manufacturers use the services of reliable testing laboratories that have the technological resources to ensure the food allergen testing is accurate.
Verifying food allergens accurately
Food allergen testing enables food manufacturers to verify the properties of food for labelling so as to safeguard consumers against potential health risks. Correct labelling of food allergens builds trust in the brand and providing a list of allergenic ingredients in any food products is a regulatory requirement also. State-of-the-art testing laboratories can detect food allergens even at very low levels.Therefore testing for allergens must be carried out in recognised and notified food testing laboratories as accurate food allergen testing ensures food safety. Foods are tested for the following food allergens, namely
- Cereals containing gluten
- Crustaceans like prawns or crab
- Peanuts and other nuts including almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts
- Some preservatives like Sulphur dioxide and sulphites
Food manufacturers therefore, partner with reliable food testing laboratories to know about the presence of allergenic ingredients in their food and also to investigate if there has been any cross-contamination from their equipment. Recognised testing labs use the PCR and the Elisa methods of food allergen testing as these tests can detect food allergens that may be present even in very minute quantities.