April 2016

Experts call for strategy to address gaps in food allergen analysis

The Government Chemist Programme and expert colleagues are today addressing challenges facing food allergen measurements.

Food allergy is a rapidly growing problem in the developed world, affecting up to 10 % of children and 2-3 % of adults, yet allergens remain challenging to analyse accurately, thus difficult to control.

Drawing on their extensive experience in this field, including solving the almond/mahaleb analytical mix up in the spices supply chain, Michael Walker, of the Government Chemist Programme at LGC, and his co-authors have published an open access paper in the journal Analyst outlining a strategy to address the key measurement challenges in allergen analysis.

Michael Walker said, “If we fail to realise the promise of future risk management of food allergens through lack of the ability to measure food allergens properly the analytical community will have failed a significant societal challenge. Our recommendations are complex with associated resource demand but rarely has such an exciting interdisciplinary scientific endeavour arisen as a solution to a key socially relevant problem.”

Walker and colleagues set out a ‘grand vision’ in the paper, with recommendations primarily addressed to the European Commission, the Health and Food Safety Directorate, DG Santé. The recommendations consist of: bioinformatics studies to pin down relevant markers or allergenic proteins within allergenic foods, development of reference methods for these allergens, and appropriate reference materials which can ultimately support threshold decisions.

Significant international effort and an inter-disciplinary approach will be required to achieve these aims but the result would be a food chain which is reliable, resistant to fraud and ultimately safe for the consumer.