New Tests Able to Identify Trace Elements of Nut Allergens
Dealing with nut allergies can be tough. But now new testing methods may increase the food industry's ability to accurately test for nut allergen contamination and label food products accordingly.
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Food corporations may be taking more accountability for the safety of their consumers with severe food allergies, yet safeguarding those allergic to food allergens unfortunately remains contingent on individual caution. Furthermore, it has become exceedingly difficult to prevent exposure to nut allergens as new production and processing methods are employed that conceal nut attributes in food products. Additionally, cross-contamination inevitably occurs in processing plants, labeling methods remain inconsistent, and standard testing methods remain unresponsive to minute traces of allergens.
For those with severe tree-nut allergies, contact with even a microscopic trace of a tree-nut can lead to a serious and possibly fatal allergic reaction. Unfortunately, allergists warn patients that it is impossible to discern the severity of future allergic reactions, making it imperative for those with allergies to devote much time and energy to avoiding contamination.
A group of scientists affiliated with Florida State University studied the effects of thermal processing and gamma-radiation on almond, cashew and walnut proteins. Their goal was to see if altering these nut proteins would cause the nuts to lose innate protein structures, the actual culprits of those allergic to nuts. The result of their research showed that regardless of the modification process and their attempts to deactivate the nut proteins, the allergic nature of the nuts remained. This conclusion dashed the scientistsí hopes of introducing novel ways to safely incorporate nut products into widely produced food snacks.
However the study, included in the June issue of the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, instead yielded more valuable information for those with nut allergies. The testing methods developed and used in the experiment were designed to not only test whole unprocessed nuts, but more importantly to detect the smallest trace elements of nuts even after undergoing extreme alteration. Thus these newly developed, ultra-sensitive tests were capable of detecting tree-nut traces in foods that were seemingly nut-free.
While the scientists urge further testing and research before these new detection systems would be available commercially, they will eventually prove to be extremely beneficial for accurate food labeling industry wide and for strengthening the level of responsibility exhibited by larger food companies regarding food safety.
Shridhar K Sathe et al. Impact of gamma-irradiation and thermal processing on the antigenicity of almond, cashew nut and walnut proteins. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. Volume 84
New Tests for Nut Allergens, June 17, 2004.