Highlights

  • A Growing Demand for Alternative Food Sources

  • Food Safety Regulations in North America and Europe

  • Assessment of Allergenicity in Novel Foods 

A Growing Demand for Alternative Food Sources
The demand for more food sources globally was recognized many years back with the regulatory framework established for Novel Foods in Europe and North America. Novel Foods were defined by Maria Grazia Calabrese in the Encyclopedia of Food Security and Sustainability, 2019 as “foods that have not had significant consumption to be considered safe, and depending on national regulations, all foods that have been obtained using innovative food technologies or that derived from animal, plants, microbes, or mineral sources, not yet currently used for human consumption”. Some of the early trend drivers for novel food development were changing consumer preferences in a global economy, the availability of new techniques for food preservation, and the introduction of genetic modifications to optimize agronomics.

So, what’s changed? What is driving the Novel Food development today?

With the growth of the world population, there has been an increased demand for animal-derived dietary protein. Sustainability, in terms of food security and resources, has pushed the development of alternative protein sources. Currently, the major sources of animal protein for human consumption include meat, fish, milk, and eggs. There are also plant-based proteins that are widely consumed and are derived from soy, wheat, vegetables, potatoes, legumes, and grains. New processing technologies have led to further development of plant-based proteins under the Novel Food category, along with non-traditional alternative protein sources. Some of the new alternatives being introduced are:

  • Plant-based meat, dairy, and fish
  • Insect protein
  • Single-cell protein
  • Cultured meat and seafoods

Food Safety Regulations in North America and Europe
It is a must that novel foods are proven safe before they are introduced in the marketplace. The FDA regulates all new substances according to its GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) pre-market approval process, which also applies to novel food proteins. Under European regulations, any food that was not consumed “significantly” prior to May 1997 is considered to be a novel food. The category covers new foods, food from new sources, new substances used in food as well as new techniques and technologies for producing food. In Canada, novel foods are defined under Part B, Division 28 of the Food and Drug Regulations. The Canadian Guidelines for the Safety Assessment of Novel Foods outlines the considerations for novel foods to include dietary exposure, nutritional, toxicological, allergenicity, chemical, and microbiological aspects.

Assessment of Allergenicity in Novel Foods
When introducing novel foods, manufacturers must assess the allergenicity potential. As the emphasis on alternative proteins increases, so does the concern for allergens. Trends in Food Science and Technology (Vol. 84 (2019 45-48) lists the key elements required for allergenicity assessments of novel foods. It mentions that as part of the protein analysis, the degree of sequence homology with known allergens must be also considered. The journal states “the default assumption is that all novel foods containing protein have the potential to be allergenic and the manufacturer has to prove otherwise”. Not only does the risk to the existing allergic population need to be considered, but there is also a risk of new sensitivities that may result from increasing consumption of a protein in a population.
Once introduced to the marketplace, the monitoring of allergens becomes imperative. Novel food manufacturers should test products routinely to ensure no cross-contamination potential. Analytical methods must be “fit for purpose”, and the three main platforms for allergen testing should be understood. The first and most commonly used method is ELISA (Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay); it reacts directly to proteins in food and is both sensitive and cost-effective. However, there are limitations with respect to cross-reactivity, damaged proteins due to processing, and inhibitory ingredients that may limit the use of this technology and need to be considered when interpreting results.

Real-Time PCR is a DNA-based technique that can complement the use of ELISA and is seeing increased application. Some inhibition is possible as a result of potential matrix interference. Since this method is more specialized, manufacturers should expect a higher cost when considering this option.

The third technique is LC-MSMS. Also utilizing the detection of the allergenic protein, but more costly and specialized, this technique has the potential to determine multiple allergens at the same time offering a clear advantage. LC-MSMS may be considered the future for allergen analysis. An AOAC method was published in 2017 for the detection of 4 allergens in specific commodities. Method development activity for determining allergens by LC-MSMS is very active in the food testing sector. In the case of novel foods, the lack of information on amino acid sequences and their corresponding fragment patterns currently limits the routine use of LC-MSMS, adding to the complexity to the development of this technique.

What can Mérieux NutriSciences do for you?
At Merieux NutriSciences, we understand the risk that allergens pose to your product. We offer qualitative and/or quantitative testing services for big 9 allergens in all food matrices, including raw materials and finished products, utilizing a range of technologies. Contact us today to learn more.

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