Food industry use fast test methods to analyze food safety in the production chain. It allow them to respond quickly to potential safety or quality risks. However test kits developed, for example, for allergens differ considerably in quality performance or are not fit for use in complex matrices or with processed foods.
Food safety is primarily the responsibility of food producers. To support production of safe food the EU has established a regulatory framework of limits (e.g. MRLs for toxins) and a network of reference labs to develop lab based reference methods and reference materials to assure the quality of testing. Next to this, food industry is increasingly adopting fast test methods to analyze food safety parameters in the trade or production chain. Developing and selling fast test methods for self-control in the food production chain has become an industry in itself. Based on the results of these tests, producers can, when necessary, respond quickly to avoid potential safety or quality risks. However, there are issues in the quality performance of fast detection methods, especially in test kits for allergens (AGs) and ergot alkaloids (EAs). Test kits developed for AGs differ considerably in quality performance and accuracy, or are not fit for use with complex matrices or processed foods. Test kits available for EAs may not be sensitive enough in view of the expected change in the EU threshold values of EAs for processed grains and infant foods. Overall, quality performance of fast test kits need to be evaluated, quality performance standards need further development and reference materials need to be made available. The project addresses call topic D (Safe Food), subtheme 3, priority 3: Development of methods for quality performance of fast test methods for the purpose of industry self-control in food safety.
This project will bring together all key players in the food chain to address their most urgent needs. It will bridge the expertise and quality provided by the reference labs with the effective use of easy to perform test-methods for self-control. Together with all partners labs we will evaluate whether commercially available test kits are fit for purpose in realistic matrices, and will provide complementary reference materials and validation studies. We benchmark test kit performance against golden standard mass spectrometry. Specifically for AGs, and aiming at users of test kits, we develop a user guidance for optimal use of commercial test kits in AG-matrix combinations. As first step towards an EU standard the guidance document will serve as technical input for a CEN Workshop Agreement. This standard will describe the quality performance criteria for user-fit testing of AGs in different food matrices. We share the project results in a stakeholder meeting with governmental organisations to support a EU harmonized regulatory framework for AGs.
Overall, the project will support reliable food safety testing in the trade chain and contribute to safe food for (allergic) consumers and infants.