Allergenic Proteins in Foods and Beverages

Ana Barros1* and Fernanda Cosme2

CITAB – Centre for the Research and Technology of Agro-Environmental and Biological Sciences, Chemistry Department, University of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro, PT-5001-801 Vila Real, Portugal

2IBB/CGB-UTAD – Institute for Biotechnology and Bioengineering, Centre of Genomics and Biotechnology, School of Life Sciences and Environment, Department of Biology and Environment, University of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro, P.O. Box 1013, PT-5001-801 Vila Real, Portugal

Article history:

Received August 16, 2012
Accepted February 25, 2013

Key words:

food allergy, allergen identification, food proteins


Food allergies can be defined as immunologically mediated hypersensitivity reactions; therefore, a food allergy is also known as food hypersensitivity. The reactions are caused by the immune system response to some food proteins. The eight most common food allergens are proteins from milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soya, wheat, fish and shellfish. However, many other foods have been identified as allergens for some people, such as certain fruits or vegetables and seeds. It is now recognized that food allergens are an important food safety issue. A food allergy occurs when the body’s immune system reacts to otherwise harmless substances in certain foods. For these reasons, one of the requirements from the European Union is that allergenic food ingredients should be labelled in order to protect allergic consumers. According to the European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients’ Associations, about 8 % of children and 4 % of adults suffer from some type of food allergy. Food allergies often develop during infant or early childhood ages, affecting mainly the gastrointestinal tract (stomach and intestines). In some cases, the allergy may persist in adult age, for example, coeliac disease, which is an abnormal immune response to certain proteins present in gluten, a type of protein composite found in wheat and barley. Almost all allergens are proteins, and highly sensitive analytical methods have been developed to detect traces of these compounds in food, such as electrophoretic and immunological methods, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis. The purpose of this review is to describe the allergenic components of the most common causes of food allergies, followed by a brief discussion regarding their importance in the food industry and for consumer safety. The most important methods used to detect allergenicity in food will also be discussed.

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