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Case Study: Innovations in Allergen Detection Technologies

An estimated two million people have a diagnosed food allergy in the UK, with these figures constantly increasing. As more and more people develop allergies, the incidence of severe food allergies has also increased significantly, with the number of hospital admissions for anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction) having more than doubled since 2003.

For people with a food allergy, there is an extreme overreaction from their immune system in response to the proteins found in certain foods. If a person with a food allergy consumes or comes into contact with the allergen, their immune system mistakenly identifies the protein as harmful, which triggers an immune response. This immune response can manifest in a wide range of symptoms, ranging from mild to severe, and may include:

  • Skin reactions such as hives, itching or a rash.
  • Respiratory symptoms such as nasal congestion, sneezing or wheezing.
  • Gastrointestinal issues such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain or diarrhoea.
  • Swelling of the lips, tongue, throat or face.
  • Anaphylaxis, a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction characterised by difficulties breathing, a sudden drop in blood pressure, loss of consciousness and cardiac arrest.

Food allergies can develop at any age but are most commonly diagnosed in childhood. The most common food allergies are cows’ milk, eggs, peanuts, soy, tree nuts, shellfish and wheat.

Because exposure to a food allergen can have serious consequences for the individual affected,
allergen detection in the food industry is a critical aspect of ensuring food safety and protecting individuals with food allergies. The presence of allergens in food products poses significant risks to individuals with allergies, as even small amounts of allergenic proteins can cause extreme reactions. Accidental exposure to allergens can occur due to cross-contact during food processing or preparation, incorrect labelling or accidental contamination in shared manufacturing facilities.

Accurate and effective allergen detection methods are essential to identify and quantify allergenic proteins in food products. These methods help food manufacturers comply with labelling regulations, implement allergen management practices and ensure the safety of allergic consumers. Additionally, robust allergen detection techniques support quality control measures by allowing allergen levels to be monitored throughout the production process.

The UK government is putting increasing pressure on the food industry to improve allergen detection and ensure that foods are accurately labelled and safe for consumers to eat. With increasingly strict regulations and the introduction of new laws, such as Natasha’s Law coming into effect, researchers are trying to come up with innovative allergen detection technologies that are more effective and accurate in detecting the presence of food allergens. 

Traditional allergen detection methods often require specialised equipment and skilled personnel and the analysis is time-consuming. This can limit their suitability for on-site testing and rapid allergen screening. Recent advancements in allergen detection technology offer improved sensitivity, specificity and speed compared to traditional methods.

Allergy detection technologies

Case Study 1: AllerGenius – An Innovative Allergen Detection Technology

AllerGenius is an innovative allergen detection technology that has revolutionised the way allergens are identified in food products. Developed by a team of scientists at a leading research institution, AllerGenius employs advanced molecular techniques to detect allergenic proteins with high sensitivity and specificity. This case study explores the technology’s development process, how it works and its applications in the food industry.

How it works:

AllerGenius utilises a combination of immunoassays and molecular biology techniques to detect allergenic proteins in food samples, using the following steps:

  • Preparing the sample: Food samples are collected and prepared for analysis. This may involve extracting the samples and purifying them to isolate the allergen proteins.
  • Immunoassay: AllerGenius employs highly specific antibodies that bind to the target allergen proteins in the sample. These antibodies are immobilised on a solid support, such as a microarray or a biochip.
  • Detection: After binding to the target proteins, the antibodies are labelled with a fluorescent or enzymatic marker. This allows for the visualisation and quantification of allergen-protein complexes.
  • Analysis: The signal generated by the antibodies is measured using specialised equipment, such as a microarray scanner or a plate reader. The intensity of the signal correlates with the concentration of allergenic proteins present in the sample.
  • Interpreting the data: The data obtained from the analysis are processed and analysed using advanced algorithms to determine the presence and concentration of allergens in the food sample.

The development process:

The development of AllerGenius involved a multidisciplinary approach, bringing together expertise in molecular biology, immunology, biochemistry and food science. The development process included the following steps:

  • Research and conceptualisation: The project began with a thorough review of existing allergen detection methods and technologies. Researchers identified gaps and limitations in current approaches and proposed novel solutions to overcome these challenges.
  • Developing the prototype: Based on the conceptual framework, a prototype of the AllerGenius technology was developed in the laboratory. This involved designing and optimising the immunoassay components, including the selection of antibodies, labelling techniques and detection methods.
  • Validation studies: The prototype was rigorously tested and validated to assess its performance characteristics, including its sensitivity, specificity, accuracy and reproducibility. This involved analysing a diverse range of food samples containing known concentrations of allergenic proteins.
  • Optimisation and refinement: Feedback from validation studies was used to refine and optimise the AllerGenius technology further. This process involved modifying experimental parameters, improving assay protocols and enhancing data analysis algorithms.
  • Commercialisation: Once the technology demonstrated robust performance in laboratory settings, the research team worked on scaling up production and commercialising AllerGenius for widespread use in the food industry.

Applications in the food industry: 

AllerGenius can be used in multiple ways in the food industry to assist with more accurate allergen detection.

  • Quality control: Food manufacturers can use AllerGenius to monitor allergen levels in their products and ensure compliance with labelling regulations. This helps prevent cross-contamination and reduces the risk of allergic reactions.
  • Ingredient screening: AllerGenius can be used to screen raw ingredients for the presence of allergens before they are incorporated into food products. This allows manufacturers to make informed decisions about ingredient sourcing.
  • Allergen management: Food service establishments, such as restaurants and catering companies, can use AllerGenius to detect allergens in menu items and implement appropriate safety measures to prevent accidental exposure to allergenic proteins.
  • Product development: AllerGenius can facilitate the development of allergen-free or hypoallergenic food products by enabling precise control over allergen content during the formulation process.


AllerGenius is a cutting-edge allergen detection technology that has significant advantages over traditional methods. By combining the sensitivity of immunoassays with the specificity of molecular biology techniques, AllerGenius provides food manufacturers with an effective tool for ensuring the safety and quality of their products while meeting the needs of consumers with food allergies.

Case Study 2: Nano-Biosensor Platforms for Allergen Detection (NBPAD) 

Nano-biosensor platforms have emerged as innovative tools for detecting good allergens. Nano-biosensors have high sensitivity, specificity and rapid analysis capabilities. This case study explores a specific nano-biosensor technology, its development process and its applications in the food industry.

How it works:

Nano-biosensor platforms for detecting food allergens utilise nanotechnology and biosensor principles to detect allergenic proteins in food samples. The technology operates through the following steps:

  • Surface functionalisation: The sensor surface is functionalised with specific antibodies or aptamers that bind selectively to the target allergenic proteins.
  • Recognising element binding: When a food sample containing allergenic proteins is introduced to the sensor surface, the target proteins bind to the recognition elements (antibodies or aptamers) on the surface.
  • Signal transduction: The binding between the allergenic proteins and the recognition elements creates a change in the sensor’s electrical, optical or mass properties (depending on the type of biosensor).
  • Signal amplification: In some cases, signal amplification strategies, such as nanoparticle labelling or enzymatic reactions, may be employed to enhance the detection sensitivity.
  • Detecting and analysing signals: The transduced signal is detected and analysed using specialised equipment, such as a potentiostat for electrochemical sensors, a spectrophotometer for optical sensors or a quartz crystal microbalance for mass-based sensors.
  • Interpreting the data: The signal is correlated with the concentration of allergenic proteins present in the food sample, using calibration curves or mathematical models.

Development process: 

The development of nano-biosensor technology involved multiple stages, including:

  • Research and conceptualisation: The NBPAD project began with a thorough understanding of the principles of biosensors, nanotechnology and allergen detection. Researchers review existing literature and identify potential strategies for developing a nano-biosensor platform for allergen detection.
  • Sensor design: Based on the conceptual framework, researchers design and fabricate the nano-biosensor platform. This involves choosing suitable materials for sensor substrates, designing recognition elements (antibodies or aptamers) and optimising sensor fabrication techniques.
  • Optimising sensor performance: The fabricated sensors undergo rigorous optimisation to enhance their sensitivity, specificity and stability. This may involve optimising surface functionalisation protocols, signal transduction mechanisms and signal amplification strategies.
  • Validation studies: The optimised nano-biosensor platform was validated using food samples spiked with known concentrations of allergenic proteins. The performance characteristics of the sensors, including their sensitivity, specificity, accuracy and reproducibility, are evaluated under various experimental conditions.
  • Integration and commercialisation: Once the technology has been validated, researchers then integrate the nano-biosensor platform into user-friendly devices or systems that are suitable for real-world applications. Commercialisation strategies are developed to market the technology to food industry stakeholders.

Applications in the food industry:

The NBPAD technology can be used in multiple ways in the food industry to assist with more accurate allergen detection.

  • Allergen screening: Food manufacturers can use NBPAD to screen raw materials, cooked (or cooking) or prepared food items and food contact surfaces for the presence of allergenic proteins. This helps ensure compliance with labelling regulations and prevents cross-contamination.
  • Quality control: NBPAD allows businesses in the food industry to quickly analyse food samples on-site. This allows manufacturers to monitor allergen levels throughout the production process and maintain product quality and safety.
  • Allergen management: Food service establishments, such as restaurants and catering companies, can use NBPAD to detect allergens in menu items and implement appropriate safety measures to protect consumers with food allergies.
  • Product development: NBPAD facilitates the development of allergen-free or hypoallergenic food products by providing accurate and sensitive detection of allergenic proteins during the formulation and testing stages.


Nano-biosensor platforms are a promising technology for detecting food allergens. They offer several advantages over traditional methods, including increased sensitivity, more specific allergen detection and rapid analysis capabilities. The development and commercialisation of NBPAD can potentially enhance allergen management practices in the food industry, ultimately improving food safety and consumer trust.

Detecting allergens

Advantages and impact 

Innovative food allergen technologies offer multiple advantages over traditionally used detection methods, including:

  • Increased accuracy
    Advanced allergen detection technologies, such as nano-biosensors, molecular techniques and mass spectrometry-based approaches, provide higher sensitivity and specificity compared to traditional methods. These technologies can detect allergenic proteins at lower concentrations, minimising the risk of false-negative or false-positive results. This is particularly important because many people with food allergies can have their symptoms triggered by tiny levels of exposure. Accurate allergen detection ensures that food products are correctly labelled, reducing the likelihood of accidental exposure and allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.
  • Faster analysis
    Many innovative allergen detection technologies offer rapid analysis capabilities, which allow for on-site testing and real-time monitoring of allergen levels in food samples. Technologies like biosensors and microarrays can provide results within a few minutes to a few hours. This allows food manufacturers, retailers and food service establishments to make quick decisions regarding the safety of food. Rapid allergen detection helps prevent contaminated products from being distributed or sold, and in the event this does occur, allows food establishments to quickly recall the food items, reducing the potential health risks to consumers.
  • More cost-effective
    While some advanced allergen detection technologies may require a high initial investment in equipment and infrastructure, they often offer long-term cost savings compared to traditional methods. Rapid analysis capabilities and reduced labour costs can lead to increased efficiency and productivity in food testing laboratories. Additionally, preventing allergen-related recalls and incidents can mitigate financial losses for food manufacturers and protect brand reputation.
  • Increased food safety
    Implementing innovative allergen detection technologies contributes to overall improvements in food safety by reducing the risk of allergen cross-contact and contamination. By accurately detecting and quantifying allergenic proteins, these technologies help ensure compliance with labelling regulations and allergen management practices. Enhanced food safety not only protects individuals with food allergies but also promotes consumer trust and confidence in the food supply chain and protects the business from legal consequences.
  • Public health impact
    Accurate and efficient allergen detection plays an important role in safeguarding public health by preventing allergic reactions and associated health complications. Individuals with food allergies rely on accurate labelling and allergen management practices to make informed food choices and avoid potential allergen exposure. By reducing the incidence of allergic reactions and anaphylaxis, innovative allergen detection technologies contribute to improved quality of life and well-being for individuals with food allergies and their families.
Allergic reaction

Challenges and solutions

During the development and implementation of any new technology, particularly food allergen technologies, there are several challenges that can be expected. Some of the challenges faced during the development and implementation phases and the potential solutions are:

Regulatory compliance: 

Challenge: One of the primary challenges in developing allergen detection technologies is ensuring compliance with regulatory standards and labelling requirements. Regulatory agencies, such as the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), have strict guidelines for allergen labelling and detection methods. Innovators must demonstrate that their technologies meet these regulatory standards through rigorous validation studies and documentation of performance characteristics.

Solution: Collaborating with regulatory agencies and adhering to established guidelines is essential for overcoming regulatory hurdles. Innovators can engage with regulatory experts early in the development process to ensure that their technologies meet regulatory requirements. Transparent communication and documentation of validation data are critical for gaining regulatory approval and market acceptance.

Technological limitations:

Challenge: Developing sensitive, specific and reliable allergen detection technologies can be challenging due to the complexity of food environments, the variability in allergen protein structures and the presence of interfering substances. Traditional methods may lack the required sensitivity or speed for rapid allergen detection, while newer technologies may face limitations in scalability, cost-effectiveness or practicality, which can limit their widespread adoption.

Solution: Overcoming technological limitations requires interdisciplinary collaboration and continuous innovation. Researchers can utilise advances in nanotechnology, biotechnology and data analytics to continuously improve the performance of allergen detection technologies. Additionally, integrating multiple detection modalities, such as combining immunoassays with molecular biology techniques or leveraging artificial intelligence for data analysis, can improve the sensitivity and specificity of the technology. Investing in research and development to address specific challenges and optimise technology platforms is necessary if researchers and the food industry want to overcome technological limitations.

Practical considerations:

Challenge: As well as technical challenges, practical considerations such as cost, ease of use and compatibility with existing infrastructure are key factors for successfully implementing allergen detection technologies. Food manufacturers, testing laboratories and regulatory agencies require user-friendly, cost-effective solutions that can be easily integrated into existing workflows and quality control processes, with little or no disruption to existing processes. 

Solution: Researchers need to consider end-user needs and preferences when designing allergen detection technologies. Developing user-friendly interfaces, automation features and portable devices can simplify the implementation and adoption of these technologies. Collaborating with industry partners and stakeholders to understand their requirements and constraints can help tailor solutions to meet their needs effectively. Additionally, offering training and support services to end-users can make it easier to adopt new technology adoption and can make implementation more successful.

Future trends

Although allergen detection technologies have come a long way, future trends and advancements in allergen detection technology are still necessary. Future innovations are likely to focus on improving the sensitivity, specificity, speed and accessibility of allergen detection technology even further. They will likely also address any existing or emerging challenges in allergen detection.

Some future trends to look out for may include point-of-care testing. There is a growing demand for point-of-care testing devices that provide rapid, on-site detection of allergens in food samples. Future trends may focus on developing portable, handheld devices that are equipped with biosensors or microfluidic platforms for real-time allergen screening. These devices could enable food manufacturers, retailers and consumers to conduct quick and reliable allergen testing without the need for specialised laboratory equipment or trained personnel.

It is also likely that artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning algorithms will be utilised in allergen detection. They have the potential to change the way the food industry detects allergens by enhancing data analysis, pattern recognition and predictive modelling. AI-powered systems can analyse large datasets generated from allergen detection assays, identify complex patterns and optimise detection protocols for improved accuracy. Additionally, AI-driven decision support systems could assist food safety professionals in risk assessment, allergen management and regulatory compliance, streamlining the process.

Multiplex assays capable of detecting multiple allergens simultaneously could significantly advance allergen detection technology. Future trends may involve the development of high-throughput screening platforms that can analyse multiple allergen proteins in complex food samples at the same time. This could streamline allergen testing workflows, reduce analysis time and improve efficiency in food testing laboratories. 

Another potential change could include integrating allergen detection biosensors into supply chain management systems. This offers the opportunity to enhance traceability and transparency in food production and distribution networks and can provide early warning alerts for potential allergen contaminations, allow quick response measures and support risk mitigation strategies.

With allergens posing such a risk to many people in the UK, there is a need for continuous improvement and adaptation of allergen detection technology. Not only can this make the food industry safer, but it also has the potential to save thousands of lives. 


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About the author

Nicole Murphy

Nicole Murphy

Nicole graduated with a First-Class Honours degree in Psychology in 2013. She works as a writer and editor and tries to combine all her passions - writing, education, and psychology. Outside of work, Nicole loves to travel, go to the beach, and drink a lot of coffee! She is currently training to climb Machu Picchu in Peru.

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