Having accurate allergen information on your label is not only an important part of regulatory requirements, but also a critical piece of information for the millions of people who experience food allergies. Stephanie Bear, an Associate Chemist from Nestlé Quality Assurance Center Dublin, discusses the importance of allergen testing.

1 What is the difference between a food allergy, food intolerance and Celiac disease?

A food allergy occurs when the immune system reacts to a certain food. A food intolerance is caused by an enzyme deficiency. Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disease where the ingestion of gluten damages the intestine.

2 What foods are people allergic to?

The United States has eight major food allergen categories. The “Big 8” includes milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish, and crustacean shellfish. Sesame will be added to this list in 2022 making it nine. With over 100 different foods types reported as allergies, only these nine cause the majority and most serious reactions in the U.S.

3 Why is it important to test for food allergens at my facility? What types of things can I test?

The smallest trace amounts can cause severe reactions. It might seem like a small, dust-sized crumb, but it could contaminate an entire batch. Cross contamination of your goods can happen anywhere along the supply chain no matter how great your management plan. There are several areas of interest to test for allergens at your facility, you can test anything from raw materials, finished materials, CIP rinse water, cleaning efficiency, transport, storage, and any other areas of concerns.

4 When should allergen testing occur?

Testing should occur for any cleaning process, any change in your production that can impact allergen presence such as a new line or a raw material change. Once you have an allergen management plan in place at your facility, you will want to set up allergen testing to verify that the plan you have in place is working for your facility. Testing may also be needed to support a HACCP plan or an allergen free claim.

5 What do my results mean?

Regulatory guidance in the U.S. is very clear for gluten with a limit at 20 mg/kg. For other allergens, the limit of quantification from the kit manufacturers may be used to take the necessary management decision both for validation and verification purposes.