Introduction

Analytical techniques are available to detect very low concentrations of allergenic proteins within complex mixtures. These have potential for use in the food industry in a number of ways:

• Quality control of food manufacturing processes - detection of accidental cross- or carry-over contamination due to shared areas, staff or equipment.

• Confirmation of accidental exposure to an individual.

• Detection of residual allergenicity following processing to reduce biological activity.

There are several considerations to be made when designing or implementing analytical assays:

• Nature of the allergenic molecules

• Detection limits required

• Sensitivity and specificity of the assay

• Sampling and extraction procedure.

The aim of this chapter is to outline the methods available, and to outline the limitations and benefits of such assays, but not to give a step-by-step guide to bench-top techniques. The chapter begins with a brief description of the type of molecules that we need to detect. The detection limits required have been indicated in Chapters 3 and 4 where the extreme sensitivity of some individuals to minute quantities of proteins has been described and the threshold doses discussed. It is apparent that for certain foods, such as nuts and peanuts, as little as 45 mg (Hourihane et al. 1997) must be detected in a meal in order to avoid risk of anaphylaxis. This level of sensitivity must therefore be achieved with the assays. Protocols for sampling are given in Chapters 3 and 4. Sampling procedure could greatly compromise the efficiency of detection, especially if the contamination is likely to be particulate and intermittent. Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) is an aqueous system, and allergens must be in aqueous form for analysis. Poor extraction and recovery of the allergen could compromise an otherwise adequate assay. All these factors and steps must be considered when implementing allergen detection assays.

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