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Germany develops rapid detection systems for food allergens

By Mike Stones , 10-Dec-2010
Last updated on 10-Dec-2010 at 13:57 GMT

German researchers are aiming to develop rapid detection systems to identify allergenic substances in foodstuffs, according to a workshop on analytical methods for allergen detection staged in Berlin this week.

Organised by the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) and the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), the workshop provided a forum to share progress on ways of detecting allergenic materials in food stuffs.

Commenting after the meeting, BfR president Professor Andreas Hensel said: “Allergies are increasing in the population. The detection of known allergenic substances, therefore, plays an important role in consumer health protection."

Allergenic substances

LGL is working with other scientific institutions to devise a rapid detection system for the quantitative determination of allergenic substances in foodstuffs in the entire production chain based on the PCR method (polymerase chain reaction).

BfR is working on the development and standardisation of rapid tests for the detection of allergens.

Food extracts are applied to a test strip which can reveal the presence of allergens and identify them within 10 minutes. Tests can be made anywhere and no special laboratory equipment is necessary.

New analytical methods are able to detect the hereditary material of the allergenic substances with a high reliability, even in intensely processed foodstuffs.

All reagents needed for testing are generally available and the methods can be applied worldwide.

Allergens can even be detected in traces of ppm (parts per million).

Different allergens can be analysed in parallel, including those which so far have proved difficult to detect.

Next year, research will focus on standardising the developed screening processes.

Consuming traces of a foodstuff are sufficient to cause a life threatening allergic shock in highly susceptible individuals.

Labeling

The German National Action Plan against Allergies, organized by the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV) is intended to improve the labeling of allergenic substances on foodstuffs.

Currently rules specify that traces of allergenic substances must be labeled if there is a risk that they may transfer unintentionally into the product during food production.

For example, if two different types of chocolate, one containing nuts, are produced one after the other on the same production line, nut traces may contaminate the second batch. Official testing methods exist for hazelnuts, peanuts and celeriac. But no detection methods are available for many other allergenic components.

So producers label their products, for precautionary reasons, with general statements such as “May contain traces of hazelnuts”.

Meanwhile, FoodProductionDaily’s sister publication,FoodNavigator is staging its own allergens conference in London on 31st March 2011.

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