The food allergen testing industry has grown tremendously across North America, particularly due to the high volume of processed foods and beverages consumed daily. Allergens are emerging as a major concern in today’s food processing industry around the world. Food allergies, which refer to abnormal reactions or hypersensitivity produced by the body’s immune system, have been seen as a major food safety challenge in recent years and pose an immense burden to personal and public health.
In 2019, the most common reason for USDA FSIS and FDA recalls was undeclared allergens. In light of this growing pressure, food producers are taking various measures to ensure full transparency regarding the presence of allergenic ingredients, as well as to mitigate risks or even prevent contact with unintentional allergens. One of these steps is testing for food allergens.
Allergen testing is a key aspect of allergen management systems in food processing plants and is performed at almost every step of the way. These tests can be performed on work surfaces, as well as on products, to detect any cross-contamination or presence of allergens, and to test the effectiveness of cleaning measures in a food processing unit.
Consumers are more and more aware of food allergies and the fight against the risk of diseases that can arise from the consumption of any ingredient. One of the main reasons for increased awareness is efforts to educate the public. In Canada, for example, May has been designated âFood Allergy Awareness Monthâ. It is estimated that more than 3 million people in Canada are affected by food allergies.
The size of the global food allergen testing market is expected to gain momentum over the next several years, with continued expansion of the dairy, processed food and confectionery segments.
Understand the prevailing trends in the food allergen testing industry
Food allergies increased by almost 50% over the past 10 years, with a staggering 700% increase in hospital admissions due to anaphylaxis. Studies also suggest that food allergies are a growing health problem, with more than 250 million people worldwide being affected.
Although more than 170 foods have been identified as causing food allergies in sensitive consumers, the USDA and the FDA have identified eight major allergenic foods, based on the 2004 FALCPA (Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act). These include eggs, milk, shellfish, fish, peanuts, tree nuts, soybeans, and wheat, which are responsible for 90% of allergic reactions caused by food consumption. In April 2021, the FASTEST (The Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research Act has been enacted, which ranked sesame as the ninth major food allergen.
This ever-increasing prevalence of allergenic foods has presented lucrative opportunities for the food allergen testing industry in recent years, as operators in the food processing sector place a strong emphasis on transparency of listings. ingredients of their products. By testing for allergens in food products, organizations can accurately mention each ingredient and thus allow people with specific food allergies to avoid consuming them.
Several allergen detection methods are used in the food industry, including mass spectrometry, DNA-based polymerase chain reaction (PCR) as well as ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay), for n ‘to name a few. The FDA, for example, created a test to detect food allergens, called xMAP, designed to simultaneously identify 16 allergens, including sesame, within a single test, as well as the ability to expand for targeting additional food allergens. These industry advancements improve the process of monitoring the undeclared presence of allergens in the food supply chain and enable rapid intervention upon detection.
In addition, initiatives such as the Voluntary labeling of traces of accidental allergens (VITAL), created and managed by the Allergen Bureau, also highlights the importance of allergen testing in food production. The VITAL program is designed to support the management of allergens using a scientific risk assessment approach, in order to comply with food safety systems such as HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point), allergens playing a key role in its application. .
ELISA Grows In Importance As An Ideal Tool For Food Allergen Testing
In the life sciences, the cost-effective and rapid detection and quantification of various antibodies or antigens is of the utmost importance. Detecting the expression of selected proteins on the surface of a cell, identifying immune responses in individuals or performing quality control tests, all of these assessments require a dedicated tool.
ELISA is one of those tools which proves to be decisive for both diagnosis and research). Described as an immunoassay, ELISA is commonly used for the measurement of antibodies or antigens in biological samples, including glycoproteins or proteins.
As their utility continues to grow, ELISA tests have historically demonstrated excellent sensitivity in food allergen testing applications, in some cases up to ppm (parts per million). It has a distinct advantage over other allergen detection methods like PCR, due to its ability to adapt to certain foods like milk and oils, where its counterparts tend to struggle. The FDA is a major proponent of ELISA for food production allergen testing, involving the testing of food samples using two different ELISA kits, before confirming the results.
Many large entities are also taking into account the growing interest in the use of ELISA for the diagnosis of food allergens. A notable example is the supplier of test kits and laboratory analysis systems, Eurofins, which has introduced its SENSISpec Total Soy Protein ELISA Kit in September 2020. The enzyme immunoassay, designed for the quantitative identification of soy protein in swab and food samples, was developed by Eurofins Immunolab to measure residues of processed proteins in various food products, including meals instant, chocolate, baby food, ice cream, cereal, sausage and cookies, among others.
Essentially, food allergens continue to prevail as high risk factors for the food production industry. Unlike other pathogens like bacteria, allergenic proteins are heat resistant and stable, and cannot be easily eliminated once they are in the food supply chain. In this situation, diagnostic testing of allergens, complete segregation of allergenic substances and precise labeling of food allergens appear as the ideal action plans for the management of allergens in the modern food production ecosystem, with technologies. advances such as the molecular diagnosis of food allergies which are expected to take a leading role in the years to come.