Main research question/goal
This project aims to develop an integrated detection method (with protocols) for two selected allergens, namely hazelnut and soy. The integrated approach should be quantitative, robust and validated. The final goal is to give authorities and food companies a practical approach to developing a preventive food allergen policy and thereby increasing food safety. Food allergies are a growing health problem as the number of allergic reactions is increasing. The most effective approach is for the allergic consumer to avoid allergen-containing food. Prevention of intake (via labelling) requires screening food products (detection of allergens present), for which a validated detection process is required. The specific characteristics and the high variability among allergens make this a complex assignment.
We examine the impact of a number of simulated food processing responses on the chemical composition of the allergenic components hazelnut and soy. We investigate and evaluate how a number of simulated food processing techniques influence detection with the commercially available methods and how such processing influences the allergenicity or not. We do so by using five analytical approaches: immonochemische analysis, PCR analysis, mass spectrometric analysis, chemical analysis and in vitro allergenicity tests. The final result is a commercially available, analytical, validated and evaluated method to detect and quantify soy and hazelnut proteins in the wide range of food products that have undergone all possible transformation processes.
The food industry currently needs to validate their production processes to ensure the absence of cross-contamination in the production lines and perform reliable quality control of incoming materials. The development of functional methods that detect the most important allergens shall support the creation of new preventive food safety policies. ILVO’s detection method can be used by the government, the Belgian food and catering industry and other interested parties in order to guarantee food safety. The strategy developed here can also be applied to detect other allergens. In Belgian food factories (dairy, chocolate, meat, and cookies) the methodology can be useful to evaluate the cleaning processes and critical points in the quality management system. Finally, this research should lead to recommendations for the auto-control guides of the industries that use traditional production methods. It is also relevant for government agencies responsible for an analytical strategy for the detection of allergens.