The standard test food manufacturers and health regulators use to detect milk-protein residues in processed foods may not work as well as previously believed to flag potential allergy triggers, new research has found.
The study, reported here at the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society's, found the so-called ELISA test – short for enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay -- sometimes misses ingredients that can cause common milk allergies.
Lead Researcher Joseph L. Baumert, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln specialist, said food-processing systems can change the proteins that cause milk allergy that make them harder to detect using the standard test. But even at undetectable levels, the milk proteins can still cause itchy skin, runny eyes, wheezing and serious symptoms of milk allergies.
"The results of these studies could be utilized by commercial ELISA kit manufacturers to aid in improving ELISAs for detection of milk residue in processed food products,” he said. “These improved tests can be adopted by the food industry, if necessary, to allow for reliable detection of milk residue regardless of the type of processing that is used."
Milk allergies are the most common childhood food-related allergies, affecting millions of children under age 3. Milk allergy is not the same as lactose intolerance, a condition in which people lack adequate amounts of the enzyme needed to digest lactose, the main sugar in milk.
Manufacturers and food-safety agencies use ELISAs to ensure milk products are free of allergens or labeled with appropriate warnings. ELISAs are among the most widely used diagnostic tests, a mainstay in diagnosing pregnancy and detecting the AIDS virus in human blood to diagnosing a range of other diseases.
The new study was funded, in part, by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.