On 23th of October, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a consumer update entitled “Finding Food Allergens Where They Shouldn’t Be“.
The update warns that allergens not listed on the label, referred to as “undeclared allergens,” are the leading cause of food recalls requested by the FDA.
Although most recalls are voluntary, the FDA does have the power to seize products that are mis-labeled in order to remove them from the marketplace.
In particular FDA is currently working on three fronts to reduce the number of such recalls:
1. by researching the causes of these errors;
2. working with industry on best practices
3. developing new ways to test for the presence of allergens
Recalled Foods and the Allergens Involved
The five food types most often involved in food allergen recalls were bakery products, snack foods, candy, dairy products and dressings (such as salad dressings, sauces and gravies). The allergens most often involved in recalls were milk, wheat and soy. Consumers can find out what products have been recalled recently at FDA’s website and at the Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) website, as well as from the companies that make the products.
FDA Exploring New Ways to Test for Allergens
The most common test used worldwide is the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), which uses antibodies (parts of the immune system that help neutralize viruses and bacteria) and spectroscopic detection to test for allergens. Unfortunately this method, like similar tests used in medicine, can produce false positive results, so backup methods are needed. In addition, some allergens are so similar that scientists need another test besides ELISA to tell them apart.
FDA researchers is working to develop methods for analyzing allergens based on mass spectrometry, a technology that more effectively determines the allergen protein content of a complex mixture of proteins, fats, sugars, and chemicals in a food. FDA researchers are also developing DNA-based methods, in particular to detect fish and shellfish allergens.