Analytical methods are needed for correct management and control of potential allergen cross-contamination, as well as enhancing the quality of the manufacturing and cleaning processes.
According to the Australian Food Standards Code, it is mandatory to report specific allergens present in a product.
Direct analytical methods are recommended because they detect specific allergenic proteins, while avoiding false positives,
The principal advisers on risk management of food allergens, recommend the use of rapid Lateral Flow immunochromatographic tests (LFIC) for routine verification checks. Rapid tests stand out not only for the short time required to obtain a result, but also for their ease of use and specificity. They can be used on-site by workers and do not require reader equipment, since the assessment is visual.
A method incorrectly used in the industry is one based on ATP detection. ATP is a molecule used by living organisms (animals, plants and microorganisms) to provide energy for chemical reactions. Detection is performed using bioluminescence assays, and a special reader is required.
This method detects biological contamination, which is useful for showing the degree of cleanliness. However, ATP detection is not the same as detection of allergenic proteins on surfaces. The usual reason for using this method is based on the assumption that if ATP has been removed from the surface, allergenic proteins would have been removed as well, but there is no evidence to support this. In addition, some components in detergents and/or water used for cleaning could interfere with ATP detection. Microorganisms in the water are also a source of ATP, so that base levels have to be established in each food facility.
Another technique which is used to assess the presence of allergens is the quantification of total proteins. It is an indirect method based on a colour change. It is a simple technique but has limitations. The major issue is that it does not detect a specific allergenic protein, but total proteins. This, together with its high detection limit (e.g. 3 μg of total protein versus 40 μg/cm2 in the case of the gluten rapid test), makes false negatives possible, so allergens can be present even when the result is negative. Also, special equipment is required for read the results.
The table below shows the main advantages and disadvantages of these techniques.
Novasys provides LFIC Rapid Tests manufactured by Zeulab: PROTEON EXPRESS. The kits offer qualitative results (positive/negative) in just a few minutes and neither qualified staff nor laboratory equipment are required. The tests can be carried out on a bench or table. Due to their simplicity and rapidity, they are the ideal tool for checking suppliers (commodities, semi-finished products, reprocessed products, etc.), for the verification of allergen management and Good Manufacturing Practices, for cross contamination controls (final product, working surfaces, etc.), for industrial production lines, retail food workshops and restaurant kitchens.