Michael Walker, consultant referee analyst for the Government Chemist programme, was invited to take part in the workshop to share his expertise on recent referee cases in the UK and to hear about the various methods for analysis.
The two-day workshop was organised by Romer Labs Ltd and was held at its head office in Tulln, near Vienna, Austria, last week. Romer Labs is a specialist food testing company that works closely with the Centre for Analytical Chemistry of the University of Vienna and manufactures ELISA kits which are used in a wide range of food analysis. The two-day workshop was intended for professionals involved in food allergen management and included delegates from food companies in the UK, Austria, Germany, Italy and Spain. Attendees had the chance to try modern screening methods, instructed by experienced experts and the opportunity to adapt them to their own requirements.
Michael gave an introduction to food allergy and, based on research carried out under the Government Chemist Programme, discussed the pros and cons of the principle techniques for analysis of allergens – ELISA, PCR and Liquid Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (LC-MS/MS).
Routine and confirmatory quality control approaches were discussed and delegates learned how to interpret results based on the Allergen Bureau VITAL (Voluntary Incidental Trace Allergen Labelling) system and EAACI (European Academy of Allergy & Clinical Immunology) Guideline reference doses for major allergens. Michael reviewed recent cases of cumin and paprika containing undeclared almond, and concluded with the following recommendations for future work:
- Research on causes and ‘cures’ of food allergy will yield good useable outcomes, but need much more work on fundamental immunology.
- Food businesses hold responsibility for dealing with allergen cross-contamination; thresholds will help but this requires a lot more dialogue with stakeholders such as patient support groups, and further research.
- Deaths from food allergies are rare but thorough investigation of food allergy deaths, particularly in the catering sector, is required. The skills and capacity for investigations should be improved and supply chains must be rigorously examined if adulteration or contamination with the fatal allergen occurred.
- The EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation (1169/2011) has made good progress on provision of allergen information since it came into force in December 2014 but robust enforcement on non-compliers needs to start soon.
- Knowledge and skills gaps need to be addressed for the investigation and prosecution of potentially serious incidents of food allergen mismanagement and mislabelling.
- A tenacious approach is required in these investigations, e.g. early realisation that samples of food and/or stomach contents should be retained and analysed.
- Analysis urgently needs to be improved. There is a need for more reference materials, better bioinformatics, and metrological traceability is required.
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