Food allergen analysis: a review of current gaps and the potential to fill them by matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization

Nicholas Birse*, Duncan Thorburn Burns, Michael J. Walker, Milena Quaglia, Christopher T. Elliott

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

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Food allergy remains a public health, business, and regulatory challenge. Risk analysis (RA) and risk management (RM) of food allergens are of great importance and analysis for food allergens is necessary for both. The current workhorse techniques for allergen analysis (enzyme linked immunosorbent assay [ELISA] and real-time polymerase chain reaction) exhibit recognized challenges including variable and antibody specific responses and detection of species DNA rather than allergen protein, respectively. Liquid chromatography–tandem mass spectrometry (LC–MS/MS) enables protein identification, with potential for multiplex analysis and traceability to the System of International units (SI), aiding global measurement standardization. In this review, recent literature has been systematically reviewed to assess progress in LC–MS/MS and define the potential and benefits of matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization–time-of-flight MS (MALDI–ToF-MS) technology for allergen analysis. MALDI–ToF-MS of initially intact protein is already applied to verify in silico-derived peptide sequences for LC–MS/MS analysis. We describe the origins of MALDI and its future perspectives, including affinity bead-assisted assays coupled to MALDI. Based on the proliferation of reliable and reproducible MALDI-based clinical applications, the technique should emulate the detection capability (sensitivity) of established allergen detection techniques, whilst reducing technical support and having equivalent multiplexing potential to competing techniques, for example, LC–MS/MS and ELISA. Although unlikely to offer inherent SI traceability, MALDI-based allergen analysis will complement existing MS approaches for allergens. Affinity bead-MALDI appears capable of higher throughput at lower cost per sample than almost any existing technique, enabling repeated sub-sampling as a way to reduce representative sampling issues.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages20
JournalComprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety
Early online date02 Aug 2023
Publication statusEarly online date - 02 Aug 2023


  • bead-assisted
  • critical review
  • food allergens
  • high throughput
  • immunomagnetic
  • magnetic
  • mass spectrometry


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