Sample testing in laboratory

Selecting the right method or test kit for your food allergen testing

12 July 2023 | Marie-Anne Clarke, Laboratory Supervisor and Helen Arrowsmith, Regulatory Affairs Manager and Allergen Specialist

Food business operators must employ food allergen management systems to mitigate or remove potential sources of contamination and minimise allergen cross-contact risks. The control measures employed must be validated, verified, monitored and documented.

Download our FREE Managing Food Allergens eBook today! Secure food safety, control and confidence through effective allergen management

Promotional material

Within food allergen management, food allergen testing serves several purposes, including:

  • Demonstrating that controls and procedures in place to manage food allergens are working (such as validation and verification of cleaning to remove food allergens)
  • Providing evidence for compliance with claims
  • Assisting in investigations such as those into potential allergen cross-contact
  • Determining the food allergen status of raw ingredients

When selecting a food allergen test, you need to understand what you are testing for, why that specific test is being done, and on what type of sample

Worked example – selecting the right method for detecting milk cross-contact

Several tests are available for detecting constituents of milk. In the example table below, three different options are shown for comparison – an ELISA method for the detection of casein, an ELISA method for the detection of beta-lactoglobulin (BLG), and an ion chromatography method for the detection of lactose.

Option 1 Option 2 Option 3
Test method ELISA ELISA Ion chromatography
Test specificity Casein Beta-lactoglobulin Lactose
Test measuring range 2-25 mg/kg casein 2.5-40 mg/kg BLG 20-100 mg/kg lactose
Measuring range in terms of skimmed milk powder (SMP) 10-125 mg/kg SMP 111-1778 mg/kg SMP 40-200 mg/kg SMP

To select the most appropriate testing option, the nature of the milk contaminant of interest should be considered. For example, whey powder has a high BLG content, making the ELISA test for BLG the most suitable choice if whey powder is the contaminant to be analysed for.

Skimmed milk powder (SMP), however, contains 20% casein, 2.25% BLG, and 50% lactose. Based on these proportions, it might seem like testing for lactose would be the most appropriate choice if SMP is the contaminant to be analysed for; however...

The sensitivity of the test needs factoring in, too. While SMP contains more lactose than casein, taking the sensitivity of the testing methods into account reveals that casein is actually the most appropriate marker for SMP in this example. Therefore, an ELISA test for casein would be the best choice in this case if SMP is the contaminant to be analysed for.

Scientist testing milk in laboratory. Scientist is pouring milk into glass jar

We can help you to ensure food safety

While food allergen testing is an important part of any allergen management system, it is important to understand its limitations, select the right test for the application, and interpret results carefully (we can help with all of this).

No end-product sampling scheme alone can provide full confidence in food safety – holistic, effective food allergen management is essential for ensuring the safety of food for consumers with food hypersensitivity. End-product food allergen testing can to contribute to food safety through validation of your control processes, where feasible.

If you need any information or support, get in touch. We provide a range of services to support your food allergen management needs, including; food allergen training courses, testing, and practical support with cleaning validation, hygienic design, food safety management systems, labelling and legislation.

Marie-Anne Clarke

About Marie-Anne Clarke

Marie-Anne is the lead contact for the Allergen Testing and Biochemistry Molecular Biology Teams. She uses her knowledge of biochemistry and molecular techniques, as well as experience working with food allergens and DNA techniques.

Read more...

Helen Arrowsmith

About Helen Arrowsmith

Helen Arrowsmith is currently a Principal Food Law Adviser and Allergen Specialist in the Regulatory Affairs Department at Campden BRI. Helen uses her knowledge, gained over more than 17 years working with the food and drink industry, to provide advice on relevant UK and harmonised EU legislation, to present on training courses, and to contribute to publications such as Food Law Alert.

Read more...

Need analysis and testing?

For more on food allergen analysis, including rapid turnaround for urgent testing, visit our service pages.

Food Allergen Testing

Managing Food Allergens eBook

Download our FREE Managing Food Allergens eBook today! Secure food safety, control and confidence through effective allergen management.

Download eBook

More on Allergens

Selection of common foods related to allergies

Asking our network about their food allergen cross-contact concerns

We asked our LinkedIn network for feedback on allergen cross-contact via a number of poll questions about their concerns in this area.

Consumer reading food packaging label in supermarket

Allergen labelling

In EU legislation, there are 14 groups of food raw materials that must be labelled on food and drink packages if they have been deliberately included as an i...

Selection of allergen related foods

Food allergen management: what you need to know about the Codex code of practice

Roughly 3% to 10% of adults and 8% of children worldwide are estimated to have a food allergy. Cases of food-induced anaphylaxis, at times resulting in fatal...

Woman in supermarket reading food packaging and comparing two food products

Frequently answered questions about EU-harmonised and UK food law

Based on common enquiries received by our Regulatory Affairs team, we have compiled some key information on the provision of information on labels of prepack...

Woman reading dairy product label. Product pulled from supermarket fridge

Food allergen management and labelling – the food industry’s evolution

Helen Arrowsmith, Regulatory Affairs Manager and Allergen Specialist reflects on the industry’s evolution with respect to food allergen labelling and managem...

Close up shot of wheat growing in field with sunlight bursting through

Food allergen labelling – the difference between ‘gluten’ and ‘cereals containing gluten’

Helen Arrowsmith (Regulatory Affairs Manager and Allergen Specialist), Christopher James (Safety and Quality Specialist, Allergens) and Lewis Wallis (Regulat...

Contact an expert