Study of ELISA Test Critical as Food Allergies Rise

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Are these chips safe for someone with milk or peanut allergies? Image by mooncross

Are processed foods safe for people with allergies? Between milk allergies and peanut allergies, commercially-processed foods can be problematic for many people, particularly kids; allergy is the fifth most common chronic disease in the United States, and the third most common in children. Also, according to the American Academy of Allergy and Immunology, the incidence of food allergy increased 18% from 1997 to 2007.

Why is Milk Allergy Prevalent in Infants and Children?

Eight foods are responsible for approximately 90% of all food allergies, and peanuts, followed by milk, are the top two. Milk is highly allergenic because it contains 25 different proteins, any of which can cause allergy.

The danger of milk allergy to infants and young children, due to their often-frequent consumption of milk, has been recognized by the food industry. Manufacturers are currently required to indicate on ingredient labels whether or not the product contains milk or milk proteins, but current testing methods fall short, according to new research.

Milk contains multiple proteins that may cause allergic reactions. Photo by Idaho National Laboratory

New Study Seeks to Improve Detection of Milk in Processed Foods

Joseph L. Baumert, PhD, of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, says that ELISA, the currently-preferred test to detect the presence of allergens in processed food, may miss some milk residue. He presented these findings today on the efficacy of the ELISA test for the 243rd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society in San Diego, California.

This study, headed by lead author Steve Taylor, PhD, demonstrated that food processing involving heat diminishes the accuracy of the ELISA test. Sources of heat used in processing include boiling, baking, frying, retorting (distilling) and UHT (ultra high temperatures). Baumert has studied and documented these effects, and is expected to make recommendations to improve the ELISA test.

Baumert’s study is timely and critical to public health; people are eating more processed foods than ever before. In spite of industry efforts to detect allergens in foods, current testing methods still miss trace amounts of allergens.

What is the ELISA Test?

ELISA is an immunoassay test that uses antibodies to detect allergens, and is the industry standard for food processors. Antibodies fight disease, however, they can mistake a healthy substance for a harmful one and produce allergy symptoms.

To detect the presence of milk proteins, antibodies that specifically attach to milk proteins are introduced into a solution with a food product. The degree to which the antibodies bind to milk proteins is measured by adding an enzyme that generates color, visually confirming the level of milk proteins in the sample.

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