Submitted to: Food Additives & Contaminants
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/28/2021
Publication Date: 5/20/2021
Citation: Shelver, W.L., McGarvey, A.M., Yeater, K.M. 2021. Performance of allergen testing in a survey of frozen meals and meals ready-to-eat (MREs). Food Additives & Contaminants. 38:1249-1259. https://doi.org/10.1080/19440049.2021.1914870.
Interpretive Summary: Food allergies cause an estimated 30,000 emergency room visits and 150 death per year in the U.S. In addition, approximately 30-40% of all food recalls in the U. S. are due to the presence of undeclared allergens. The presence of undeclared allergens, or absence of declared allergens, in pre-cooked, convenient frozen or ready-to-eat (MREs) meals have not been previously reported. We utilized two common analytical methods to identify the presence or absence of allergens in frozen or ready-to-eat meals. A low number of undeclared allergens were detected in the meals that we surveyed, but assay performance was much better when used on frozen meals than ready-to-eat meals. More accurate methods are needed to assay allergens in complex processed food such as frozen meals and MREs.
Technical Abstract: It was estimated food allergies caused 30,000 emergency room visits and 150 death per year in the U.S. Approximately 30-40% of food recalls in the U.S. are due to undeclared allergens. As far as we are aware, the extent of undeclared allergens or labeled allergens not detected in complex pre-cooked, convenient meals such as frozen meals or meals, ready-to-eat (MREs) have not been reported. In this paper, we utilized a 7-plex immunoassay capable of detecting cashew, egg, hazelnut, milk, peanut, shrimp, and soy allergens was used to screen meals ready-to-eat (MREs) and frozen meals that contained meat or poultry. The same food matrices were also evaluated using single allergen immunoassays. The 7-plex and single allergen test results were compared with the allergen declared on the food label, which was considered the standard. We found a low number of undeclared allergens were detected in the food items that we surveyed but both assay methods performed poorly for MREs. More accurate methods are needed to assay allergens in processed food such as frozen meals and MREs.