Advantages and disadvantages of the main analytical methods used in allergen management

Analytical methods are needed for a correct management and control of potential allergen cross-contamination, as well as the reinforcement of the quality of the manufacturing and cleaning processes.

According to European regulation No 1169/2011, it is mandatory to report specific allergens present in a product.

Direct methods are recommended because they allow the detection of specific allergenic proteins, avoiding false positives, because they are able to distinguish accurately the presence of a particular allergen.

The main guides which advise on the risk management of food allergens recommend the use of rapid immunochromatographic tests LFIC for routine verification controls. Rapid tests stand out for their easy of use and rapidity, as well as their specificity. They can be used in site by workers and do not require a reader equipment, since the interpretation is visual.

A method incorrectly used in the industry is the one based on ATP detection. ATP is a molecule used by living organisms (animals, plants and microorganisms) to provide energy to chemical reactions. Detection is performed using bioluminescence assays, and so a special reader device is required.

This method detects biological contamination, being useful for showing the cleanliness level. However, ATP detection is not equivalent to allergenic protein’s detection on surfaces. The reason of use in such cases is usually based on the assumption that if ATP has been removed from the surface, allergenic proteins would have been removed too, but there is no evidence about it.

Besides, some components of the detergents or even the water could interfere in the detection of ATP. Furthermore, microorganisms that live in the water are a source of ATP, so that basal levels have to be established in each facility.

Another technique which is used to assess the presence of allergens is the quantification of total proteins. It is an indirect method based on a color change.

It is a simple technique with some limitations. The main inconvenient is that it does not detect the specific allergenic protein but total proteins. This, together with its high detection limit (3 µg of total protein versus 40 ng/cm2 in the case of gluten rapid test, for example), makes false negatives possible, so allergens can be present when the signal is negative. Also, a special equipment is required for read the results.

Below, a table where the main advantages and disadvantages of these techniques are shown:

Zeulab manufactures rapid tests LFIC: PROTEON EXPRESS. These kits not only offer allergen detection on surfaces, but also in final product and rising waters. They are simple tools, perfect for suppliers control (raw materials, semi-processed products, processed products, etc), as well as for manufacturing and cleaning processes verification, and cross-contamination control. Their used is extended to industrial manufacturing, retail and kitchens in the catering sector.

Pedro Razquin

Pedro Razquin is Owner and CEO at ZEULAB, he is also President of the biotechnology cluster of Aragon. Developing solutions for Food Security.