News story

Strategy to address gaps in food allergen analysis needed

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

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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, 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.

A grand vision for allergen analysis

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
  • appropriate reference materials which can ultimately support threshold decisions.

Michael Walker said:

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.

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.

Published 27 April 2016