Mapping food particle behaviour to understand unintended allergen risks

Studying the behaviour of various types, sizes and shapes of food particles has helped researchers to identify key characteristics of particulate allergens that cause cross-contact risks in food production facilities.

Particles including mustard seeds, sesame seeds, hazelnut pieces, walnut pieces and decoration pearls were observed under controlled laboratory conditions and in a food production test facility, where particle shape (spherical vs. non-spherical) was found to have the greatest impact on particle behaviour. In the laboratory, spherical mustard seeds showed an average rebound height of at least 3-fold higher than the non-spherical shaped sesame seeds, walnut pieces and hazelnut pieces. The distance from the rebound point after dropping was also considerably larger for mustard seeds, i.e. regularly up to 150 cm, while the majority of sesame seeds, walnut pieces and hazelnut pieces showed a distance from the rebound point of up to 30 cm, 7 cm and 4 cm, respectively.

Results from the test facility provided additional insights in particle behaviour in specific factory settings such as a moving conveyor belt. The results of these observations hold great potential for informing the creation of allergen risk zones around particle application and handling points in existing production facilities.

This is the first known study to observe behaviour of particles for the purpose of managing food allergen risks. The findings may be used more widely to support the design of new production lines and the application of tailored risk management measures that limit cross-contact of allergenic particles, thereby producing food that is safer for allergic consumers.

Reference: Meima et al. 2021. Food Control Journal. Doi: 10.1016/j.foodcont.2020.107850

This article can be accessed free of charge until March 2021, with special thanks to the Authors.

Disclaimer: Authors Benjamin Remington, Joseph Baumert, Steven Taylor, and Geert Houben are members of the Allergen Bureau VITAL® Scientific Expert Panel. See VITAL Science