are not well suited to routine monitoring for validation and verification of
allergen control programs.
Allergen-specific ELISAs, ATP tests
and general protein tests do exist in
formats that can be used within food
processing facilities to monitor the effectiveness of allergen controls. Among
these methods, allergen-specific ELISAs
are the most specific and often are also
the most sensitive methods. Commercial ELISA kits have been developed
in both quantitative and qualitative
formats. While the quantitative format
can provide the most information, most
food manufacturing facilities don’t have
the laboratory equipment or trained
personnel to perform quantitative ELISAs. However, any of several specialized
laboratories can perform such testing
on a fee-for-service basis, including the
Food Allergy Research and Resource
Program (FARRP) Laboratory at the
University of Nebraska ( www.farrp.org).
Qualitative ELISAs have thus become
the most popular test methods within
the food industry for use in monitoring allergen controls. Qualitative ELISAs are available as microwell-based
methods by which swabs of equipment
surfaces, raw ingredients or finished
products can be analyzed for allergenic
residue or as swabs linked to lateral
flow strips. Typically, these methods
can detect allergen residues at limits
of approximately 5 ppm. Qualitative
allergen-specific ELISAs exist for many
of the commonly allergenic foods and
sometimes for specific components such
as gluten and casein.
FARRP has developed an approach
to the validation of allergen control
programs that works effectively in many
circumstances. Certainly, while it isn’t
the only approach, it likely contains
elements that would be useful in any
The “allergen load” of the ingredient
and its formulation are a very important
consideration. Allergen load focuses on
the protein content of the ingredient
and particularly on the protein from
the allergenic source. Since allergens are
proteins, ingredients with high levels of
protein from the allergenic source rep-
resent a higher allergen hazard by com-
parison with ingredients with no detect-
able protein from the allergenic source
or low levels of protein from the aller-
genic source. The form of the allergenic
food or ingredient is also important—
liquid, powder, paste, etc. Some forms
will be more difficult to remove. Par-
ticulates are of special concern because
they can contain appreciable amounts
of allergenic proteins. Many formula-
tions contain more than one allergenic
ingredient. For allergen validation, the
focus should be placed upon the com-
ponent with the highest allergenic load.
In many cases, it may not be necessary
to validate removal of all the allergens
from a particular formulation. If a vast
difference occurs in allergen load (e.g.,
two allergens in the same formula), then
the validation could likely be focused
on the allergen in the highest amount.
Even in situations where the allergens
are more equitable in concentration in
the formulation, only one of the aller-
gens can be monitored if all are present
Understanding Almond safety
Food Safety Magazine (FSM): What are some of the unique challenges of
almonds in terms of the safety profile?
Blue Diamond Global Ingredients Division: Almonds need to be stored properly
to retain their goodness and quality, but when proper care is taken, almonds last
longer than any other nut. In 1986, an extensive almond shelf-life program was
established. Since then, hundreds of products have been tested, monitored and
studied. Our data show that almonds have a longer shelf life in comparison to
other nutmeats, which is a key factor in product development for food innovators.
FSM: When incorporating almonds into other food products, what do processors most need to consider in terms of product safety?
Blue Diamond: To ensure almond quality, the nut should be stored or displayed
in a cool, dry place and avoid prolonged exposure to direct sunlight. If almonds
are exposed to oxygen, autoxidation takes place, causing breakdown of the
product. This results in off-flavors and other problems, such as rancidity. Almonds
should never be stored in the same area as strong-smelling commodities, including onions, apples, fish, etc. Additionally, almonds can be stored in the freezer,
which extends almond shelf life significantly. However, proper packaging must
be used to protect the almonds from moisture and ice crystal formation.
FSM: Do other almond products, such as almond meal, have different safety
Blue Diamond: For all almond products, a mandatory statewide safety program
for pasteurization was established in 2007. Therefore, there is no difference if the
almond is used raw or as another product, such as almond meal or almond butter. The pasteurization process must still occur.
Know Your Allergens
The first step in this approach is to
know your allergens (see “
Understanding Almond Safety,” right). The nature
of the ingredients derived from allergenic sources is of critical importance.
FSM: As nuts are an allergen, what should one do to reduce contamination
in receiving areas that have just accepted a shipment of raw almonds?
Blue Diamond: Almonds are included in the nut category, one of the top eight
food allergens. Receiving department personnel should follow their company’s
allergen management procedure as they would for any of the other top eight
food allergen products.