By Allergen Bureau

How accurate is allergen testing in pre-cooked convenience meals?

With the rise in availability of frozen and on-the-go meals, US-based researchers have looked at the extent of undeclared allergens or labelled allergens that are not actually present at detectable levels in these foods.

Using a 7-plex immunoassay capable of detecting cashew, egg, hazelnut, milk, peanut, shrimp, and soy allergens, the researchers tested 113 frozen meals and 24 meals that are ready-to-eat (MREs). They also tested each product using single, individual allergen immunoassays, compared the results and assessed both against the allergen declaration presented on each food label.

Both analytical methods failed to detect any allergens that were declared on the labels, but only in frozen meals were allergens detected that were not declared on the label. Soy was labelled but not detected in 17 frozen meals, five were labelled with egg that was not detected, and one frozen meal was labelled for milk that was not detected. Undeclared soy was detected in eight frozen meals, while undeclared egg was detected in two.

The study authors concluded that both the 7-plex immunoassay and the single, individual allergen immunoassays performed poorly for MREs and more accurate methods are needed to test for allergens in such processed foods.

Reference: Shelver et al. 2021. Food Additives & Contaminants: Part A. DOI: 10.1080/19440049.2021.1914870