New protein sources – new allergens?

By Judy Buttriss

- Last updated on GMT

Protein new to the local food chain has the potential to cause allergies: Buttriss
Protein new to the local food chain has the potential to cause allergies: Buttriss

Related tags: Food standards agency, Allergy, Asthma

Novel foods, in particular insects, are being billed as a sustainable source of protein to meet future needs, as the global population grows and becomes more prosperous and climate change takes hold.

Insects are typically rich in protein, calcium, iron and have a relatively low fat and calorie content.

The Science Report​ from the Food Standards Agency poses the question: what does this mean for food allergy and other food safety risks?

Potential to cause allergies

Protein is a major constituent of insects and sources of protein new to the local food chain have the potential to cause allergies, because the proteins are similar to existing allergens or because people become sensitised to the new proteins.

It is already known that insects can contain allergenic proteins that are common to all arthropods (mites, crustaceans, molluscs etc), which can cause significant allergic reactions in some individuals.

People who react to shrimps

For example, people who react to shrimps are highly likely to react to mealworms, and symptoms can be severe.

This increases the need to raise awareness of the potential for allergic reactions to insect products, especially for those with an allergy to crustaceans.

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