The Growing Threat of Allergens in Processed Food and Beverages


One will often hear a reference to high-blood pressure, describing it as the silent killer and, indeed, since the symptoms associated with hypertension do quite often remain hidden until they result in a serious illness or death, it is an apt description. Far from being silent, the symptoms associated with the body’s response to allergens present in food are often quite violent and usually almost instantaneous. Consequently, unless manufacturers and restaurateurs ensure that susceptible consumers are made aware of their presence, in effect, these substances have the potential to become hidden killers.

Although certainly not restricted to these, the compounds most commonly implicated in this type of immune reaction are gluten in wheat, rye, barley, and oats, lactose in dairy products, soy, and crustaceans such as prawns, crabs, crayfish, and lobsters, as well as egg proteins, and both ground nuts and tree nuts.

When food allergens are consumed by a susceptible subject, the symptoms vary. In milder cases, it may be confined to a type of skin rash, known as hives, and is usually accompanied by generalised flushing and swelling of the lips and mouth. In more severe reactions, this may progress to include respiratory difficulties. In rare cases, respiratory failure, irregular heartbeat, and reduced blood pressure form part of a reaction known as anaphylaxis which, unless treated quickly, can lead to total collapse, unconsciousness and, eventually, to the death of the subject.

Clearly, then, the screening of processed food for any allergens that may be present is vital and in most countries, including South Africa, it is mandatory, as is the appropriate labelling of products to draw attention to any such substances found to be present. Often, though unintentional, traces of gluten or nuts can still find their way into the mix, accidentally perhaps, from ingredients supplied by a subcontractor. Testing is therefore essential, and the need is for test kits that are accurate, sensitive, and suitable for analyses of multiple samples.

No local company is better able to supply the means with which to detect and quantify food allergens than IEPSA.


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