Study of ELISA Test Critical as Food Allergies Rise

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The ELISA test detects allergens in processed foods. Photo by JuVlai.

Scientists Strive to Improve the ELISA Test

In addition to Baumert, other researchers are also investigating ways to improve detection of common food allergens, including milk, eggs, and peanuts. For example, Sohelia Maleki, PhD, a research chemist for the USDA, is the lead researcher in a study underway to test the validity of ELISA in measuring allergens in both peanuts and milk. The study, “Effects of Food Processing on Food Allergens & Assessment and improvement of Detection Methods,” began on April 14, 2011 and will end on April 13, 2016.

Dr. Maleki told Decoded Science, “The scope of the study is rather broad because we intend to evaluate more than 10 different food processing operations (e.g. frying, baking, microwaving, UHT pasteurization, etc.) and the effect of these operations on detection of food allergen residues for peanut and milk using as many as 6 different commercial kits.”

In addition to the thermal processes mentioned above, Dr. Maleki’s study will observe the performance of the ELISA test under other conditions, including:

  1. Radio-frequency programming: radio frequency programming tags are used to trace the origin of foods in the event of outbreaks of food born illness.
  2. Acidification:  the addition of acid foods in the processing of low acid foods prevents botulism without exposing the foods to temperatures that would destroy nutrients.
  3. Proteolysis: the use of enzymes to preserve foods from spoilage.
  4. Fermentation: fermentation is also a process of acidifying food to preserve it, such as the fermentation of milk to cheese.

Science & Industry Must Keep Pace with Rising Rate of Food Allergies

According to Dr. Maleki, “…if detection of allergic food residues was improved in processed foods then you would help all food allergy sufferers by preventing accidental ingestion or chronic small dose exposures to trace amount of an  allergic food.”

In view of population growth, and the increased number of industrialized societies, consumption of processed foods is likely to continue to increase. The increase in allergies may reflect this increase in consumption, or it may indicate that the ELISA test is not capable of determining trace amounts of allergens after processing food.

Food Safety:  More Important than Ever

Scientists and the food processing industry need to work together in the race to curb chronic disease attributed to food allergy. In order to accomplish this, funding needs to be readily available for continued research on ELISA and other methods of protecting consumers from allergens in processed food.

Resources:

Agricultural Research Service. ARS Research Project: Effects of Food Processing on Food Allergens & Assessment and improvement of Detection Methods. (2011). Accessed March 28, 2012.

Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America. Allergy Facts and Figures. Accessed March 28, 2012.

American Chemical Society. Standard test may miss food ingredients that cause milk allergy. (2012). Accessed March 28, 2012.

Crohn’s and Colitis Center of America. About Crohn’s Disease. (2009). Accessed March 23, 2012.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Food Allergy. Accessed March 23, 2012

KidsHealth. Milk Allergy in Infants. Accessed March 22, 2012.

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