Dr Andrew Flanagan received funding from the safefood Training and Mobility Programme to attend the 4th iFAAM (Integrated Approaches to Food Allergen and Allergy Risk Management) bi-annual meeting in Brussels in March of this year. Andrew is an Executive Analytical Chemist in the Western Regional Public Analyst’s Laboratory (PAL) located in Galway. You can read more about his visit in the report below.
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I attended the 4th iFAAM consortium meeting in Brussels from Monday to Wednesday in the first week of March. This is a bi-annual meeting of this project consortium that is dedicated to the study of food allergy in all of its aspects, from the psychological effects on allergy sufferers to the physiology of the allergens in allergic persons and the latest detection
methods for these allergens in foods. iFAAM is part of the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme for research. As an associate member of the iFAAM consortium I am involved in the analysis of foods consumed by the allergic persons in Ireland to which they’ve had an allergic reaction.
This meeting was particularly topical and timely as we in the Galway Public Analysts’ Laboratory were dealing with a number of food allergen incidents at the time, including the well-publicised issue of the presence of peanut in ground cumin. This incident lead to very interesting and informative discussions in which I participated in relation to the classification and assessment of the risk posed to peanut allergy sufferers from consumption of the cumin containing peanut and also the many and various analytical challenges posed by analysing cumin for the presence of the allergenic proteins of peanut. The information that we received was that the cumin was intentionally ‘bulked up’ via the addition of ground peanut shells, these in themselves are not allergenic as they are composed of carbohydrate, mainly fibre-like polysaccharides, but this material also contained traces of peanut seed, which, as the edible portion, contains the allergenic proteins.
Contacts that I have made from within this group have enabled me (and the laboratory) to avail of the expertise and assistance of other iFAAM consortium members in the areas of risk assessment – i.e. the actual risk to the allergic consumer of two foods with the same concentration of peanut where one is a dietary staple (i.e. pasta) and the other is a condiment/spice (i.e. cumin); and also in the realm of other analytical methods that we can access as ‘confirmatory’ methods, e.g. Mass Spectrometry for the detection and quantification of peanut proteins and PCR for the detection of peanut DNA in a food. This collaboration also extended to the investigation of the influence of the spice fenugreek in the standard peanut detection method (by ELISA) – we have begun to investigate this with the manufacturer of the ELISA kits as well as with analytical laboratories in Manchester and Vienna.
As well as the knowledge in relation to the analytical methods under development, this meeting also enabled me to gain further knowledge on risk assessing foods that have been found to contain allergens and this will greatly assist us in the Galway PAL in examining foods and also in carrying out our statutory function in food analysis and designation.
As with all of these meetings, the ability to network with other scientists from around the world who are working in this area is of great benefit to me and the laboratory and helps us give a better laboratory service in the area of food allergens.