Featured News Food tests could put Aussie lives at risk

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Thu, 21 May 2020

Food tests could put Aussie lives at risk

Image: Fredrik Ohlander

James Cook University scientists have found test kits used to detect fish in food and protect those with deadly allergies are focused on species found in the northern hemisphere and miss most traces of fish caught in our region.

Professor Andreas Lopata from JCU’s Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine (AITHM) said JCU researchers in collaboration with the National Measurement Institute tested three commonly used kits that employ the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) technique.

Professor Lopata said up to 3 per cent of Australians are at risk of allergic reactions to fish, and seafood is now the leading cause of allergy-related deaths in Australia.

“At least 1,000 different species of fish are caught and sold around the world. The problem is that, unlike allergen sources such as egg, peanut and milk, there is not one test that detects all fish, as proteins differ between fish species,” he said.

AITHM researcher and lead author of the study Thimo Ruethers said the ELISA kits detected between 26 percent and 61 percent of the 57 raw and heated bony fish samples they were applied to.

“Common European and North American species including carp, cod, and salmon species had a higher detection rate compared to those from the Asia-Pacific,” he said.

Mr Ruethers said that of the 17 canned fish products tested, only between 65% and 86% were detected. None of the nine types of cartilaginous fish (sharks, skates and rays) tested were detected by the kits, or any of the five types of shellfish.

“The demonstrated inability of the ELISA kits to detect cartilaginous fish is a major drawback and poses a serious risk, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, where consumption of cartilaginous fish is high,” he said.

Professor Lopata advocates for the urgent development of improved detection methods - and not only for saving lives.

“In almost all of the more than 60 countries with mandatory allergen labelling, fish needs to be declared in packaged food. With the average cost of a food recall at around $US 10m, exporters and industry in general can’t afford to be complacent,” he said.

Mr Ruethers said the work builds on AITHM research from last year that found many skin prick tests used to determine if a person was allergic to fish were unreliable (https://bit.ly/2TyoVNZ).


Prof Andreas Lopata
E: andreas.lopata@jcu.edu.au

Mr Thimo Ruethers
E: thimo.ruethers@jcu.edu.au