Harnessing Proteomics For Food Safety: Allergen Profiling and Food Authenticity Verification

Two important aspects of food safety are food authentication and allergy profiling. The verification of food products, prevention of species substitutions, and accurate labeling of ingredients and constituents are essential to prevent consuming harmful products or allergens.

In a recent study published in Current Opinion in Food Science, researchers reviewed the proteomics-based strategies used to profile food allergies and authenticate food products.

​​​​​​​Study: Proteins and peptides: proteomics approaches for food authentication and allergen profiling​​​​​​​. Image Credit: Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock.com​​​​​​​Study: Proteins and peptides: proteomics approaches for food authentication and allergen profiling​​​​​​​. Image Credit: Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock.com

Food Authenticity and Allergens

Verifying the authenticity of the constituents of food products and the appropriate labeling of food products for potential allergens are two vital aspects of ensuring food safety and quality.

Regulatory bodies, such as the United States (U.S.) Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have implemented guidelines to ensure that the species constituting the food products are correctly identified and labeled on the food product.

According to the European Food Safety Authority, 14 food items could potentially cause serious allergies, including nuts, shellfish, eggs, wheat, fish, mustard, and sulfites. Stringent rules have been implemented to label foods containing these allergens and ensure consumer safety appropriately.

Furthermore, several efficient methods have also been developed to identify food allergens and food species, including immunoassays, high-performance liquid chromatography, spectroscopy-based methods, metabolomics, genomics, and proteomic approaches.

Methodologies based on proteomics are being used extensively in determining food constituents. In the present review, Spanish researchers discussed the current proteomic approaches used for allergen profiling and food authentication.

Food Proteomics

A bottom-up proteomic approach to recognizing and characterizing food proteins at a large scale is known as discovery food proteomics.

The process aims to provide a comprehensive catalog of all the proteins in a food system, along with characteristics such as composition, abundance, and interactions.

The workflow begins with extracting the proteins, followed by protein digestion to obtain peptides and mass spectrometry to determine the sequence and mass of the peptides.

Recent methodologies have shifted from two-dimensional gel electrophoresis to shotgun proteomics, where liquid chromatography and tandem mass spectrometry examine peptides obtained from trypsinized proteins.

Peptide biomarkers are identified through the discovery of food proteomics and are monitored using targeted food proteomics. Selected or multiple reaction monitoring is used to investigate the peptide of interest, usually through triple-quadrupole mass spectrometers or, more recently, hybrid Q-ion trap equipment.

Subsequently, the proteomics data is combined with a systems biology approach in proteomics-based systems biology to understand the dynamics of protein interactions in biological processes using animal models and mathematical simulations.

Food Authentication and Allergen Profiling

The proteomics approach allows a comprehensive assessment of proteins present in food products. Identifying specific peptide markers or proteins also provides information about the species constituting the food products. The identification of species-specific peptide biomarkers helps ensure food authenticity.

The review presented a detailed compilation of the various proteomic methodologies used to authenticate multiple food products and species. Two-dimensional gel electrophoresis and mass spectrometry were used to authenticate muscle proteins in six varieties of Indian black gram and three breeds of Spanish bovines.

Skin proteins in fish species were identified largely through matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization combined with time-of-flight analyzer (MALDI-TOF) or liquid chromatography with tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) during the discovery proteomics phase and liquid chromatography and triple-quadrupole mass spectrometry during targeted proteomics.

Artificial intelligence has also recently been integrated into proteomics methodologies, with machine learning being used along with MALDI-TOF to identify muscle proteins in chicken, pork, duck, and beef.

Targeted proteomics has also been widely used to detect and quantify a variety of food allergens in food products. Combining LC-MS/MS with selected MS/MS ion monitoring or parallel reaction monitoring has also enabled the monitoring of specific biomarkers such as β-parvalbumins, the major allergens in fish.

A combination of data-independent acquisition (DIA) with high-resolution mass spectrometry has also been used to identify trace amounts of allergens such as caseinate and albumin powder in white wine.

Another approach combined ion mobility mass spectrometry with DIA to detect baked peanut flour or raw peanuts.

The reviewers provided a comprehensive list of studies that have used proteomics in recent times to detect specific food allergens and the tools used to detect each type of allergen.


To summarize, proteomics-based methodologies have recently accelerated the process of allergen profiling and food authentication.

Developing a range of proteomic tools that can identify and target species-specific peptide biomarkers or proteins has made verifying food authenticity and detecting a wide range of food allergens more accurate and efficient.

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