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 Sant.
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.