processing: a challenge for hypoallergenic food production
Authored by Elisabetta De Angelis (ISPA-CNR)
WHAT IS FOOD PROCESSING AND WHAT TECHNOLOGIES DOES IT USE?
Food processing refers to the transformation of agricultural products into food through the use of specific technologies. Treatments such as boiling, autoclaving, frying, roasting, peeling, irradiation, ultrasonication, cold plasma and high pressure are commonly exploited at industrial level, while baking, pressure cooking or microwave heating represent typical home/culinary treatments.
WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF FOOD PROCESSING ON FOOD?
Food processing represents a key step in the food production chain because it improves the organoleptic characteristics of the food as well as its salubrity and stability. On the other hand, it has been demonstrated that such treatments could alter the biochemical characteristics of some nutritional components. A typical case is the loss/modification of thermolabile compounds, such as water-soluble vitamins (Vitamins C or that belonging to B group), upon cooking process. In addition, other molecules could undergo biochemical alterations due to the chemical reactions occurring between compounds and the food matrix components. For example proteins could be degraded or modified in ther structure or functionality .
IS THERE A CORRELATION BETWEEN FOOD PROCESSING AND FOOD ALLERGENICITY?
Food allergens are proteins able to cause abnormal immune responses after their ingestion by sensitized individuals, thus giving raise to food allergy phenomena. The clinical symptoms could range from mild to severe. The biochemical alterations induced by food processing on these compounds directly translate into the possibility to modulate the final allergenicity of the food . Several studies have shown that some techniques allow to effective decrease the content of specific allergens in certain foods, as it has observed for boiling, microwave heating and pressure-cooking tested on legumes and nuts [3,4]. The promising results obtained by studiyng the effects of food processing on the final food allergenicity opened a future path for hypoallergenic food . Moroever, it has been found that baked foods such as eggs or milk might be better tolerated by certain allergic patients [5,6,7] thus paving the way to the use of specifically processed foods for tolerance induction.
Anyway, it is worth to be noted that there are no general rules about the effect of processing on the final allergenicity of food, indeed a number of treatments were found to increase the allergenicity of certain foods  likely due to the generation of new reactive allergenic epitopes (neoallergens) .
WHAT ARE THE LATEST DEVELOPMENTS IN THE FIELD OF HYPOALLERGENIC FOODS? TWO CASE STUDIES BY NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL OF ITALY
Very recently a group of researchers of Institute of Science of Food Production of National Research Council of Italy (ISPA-CNR BA), investigated the possibility to use high temperature combined with pressure for producing peanuts and almonds at low allergenicity levels [9,10]. The studies were accomplished by investigating any variation in the respective allergenic fraction due to the exposure at the treatments tested and by estimating the digestibility and the final allergenicity of treated materials after being submitted to experiments of human simulated in vitro-digestion. The researchers found that the synergistic effects of heat and pressure played a pivotal role in the disappearance of the major peanut and almond allergens also contributing to the significant alteration of the final immunoreactivity. As for the residual immunoreactivity of treated food submitted to gastro-intestinal in vitro digestion, surviving allergenic determinants were found in peanuts while no epitopes associated with known allergens survived in almond, thus demonstrating the potential effectiveness of these treatments to reduce almond allergenicity.
WHAT ARE THE FUTURE PERSPECTIVE FOR HYPOALLERGENIC FOODS?
Future efforts will be directed to develop useful, effective and innovative processing techniques for the production of low allergenic foods or foods capable of inducing tolerance and/or useful to establish threshold levels of sensitization/elicitation. The scientific challenge is to identify technologies capable of producing hypoallergenic foods while maintaining as much as possible the organoleptic/nutritional characteristics of the processed foods, in order to protect the allergic consumers by also offering them a product as close to the traditional counterpart.
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