Since I completed my third level studies (awarded a BSc. Degree in Applied Science and an MSc. in Instrument Analysis), I have been working for 28 years as an Analytical Chemist in various laboratories, both in industry and in the Public Service. In 1998, I moved to Galway City where I am employed as an Executive Analytical Chemist in the Food Section in the Public Analyst's Laboratory. My primary responsibility as part of the laboratory team here, is the monitoring and co-ordination of the testing of official food samples received from various clients (i.e. EHS, FSAI, DAFM etc), for the presence of additives and contaminants (including allergens). The testing must be done in accordance with our Quality System requirements. All samples are checked for legislative compliance and I issue (via the LIMS) Certificates of Analysis for samples under my remit.
In recent years, we have constantly strived to develop the methodologies in the allergens' testing area. I am a member of the safefood Knowledge Network. There was a Food Allergy Network Meeting held in the University of Manchester on 23th March 2018 and, we in the Public Analyst's Laboratory, University College Hospital, Seamus Quirke Road, Newcastle, Galway gratefully acknowledge the financial sponsorship of safefood which enabled my attendance at this meeting. This meeting served to broaden my knowledge regarding the developments which are taking place in other laboratories regarding the testing of allergens in food. I was particularly interested in the following i.e. (i) the analytical work done so far using LC-MS, (ii) the sourcing of Reference materials and (iii) to establish contacts for future correspondence.
Our laboratory is the national specialist laboratory for the testing of allergens in food and, we mostly use ELISA kits for this testing. However, these kits do possess limitations (i.e. selectivity issues due to sample matrix effects). In order to strengthen our testing service an alternative technique is required which can unambiguously identify and quantify the allergen present in food, we need to extend our allergen testing portfolio and, to test for multiple allergens at the one time. In the future, the use of LC-MS as an analytical tool for the determination of allergens in food could provide the solution. My attendance at this meeting served as a means to expand my expertise in allergens' testing, to ascertain how testing strategies are developing in other countries and so help us to develop our own strategy and, to establish world-wide contacts. This knowledge will be transferred back to my laboratory colleagues.
Approximately 50 attendees were at the meeting from research institutions, contract/enforcement laboratories, Reference Material/Proficiency Test providers, kit manufacturers etc. I had the opportunity to meet an exchange information with some of the experts in attendance. There were 13 speakers who gave very informative presentations to the group on a number of topics including an update on the findings of the iFAAM Study, a global study which had been co-ordinated by the University of Manchester. The Ring Trial results associated with that study and the objectives of the next planned study (i.e. EFSA-ThRAll) were also presented to the group. The challenges encountered both in the production of new Reference Materials and in the development of LC-MS methods with the simultaneous detection of multiple allergens was also mentioned in the group.
It was encouraging to learn of the progress that has been made so far regarding the analysis of allergens in food and, it is hoped that these emerging developments will, in the future, serve to enhance our allergens' testing service.