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Five Questions to Answer Before Buying Allergen Test Kits

These days, the market is full of rapid allergen test kits aimed at food and beverage producers.


The kits may seem interchangeable at first glance — but each has its own features and quirks.

And what could happen if you use the wrong kit? Maybe you just spend more money or time than you need to. Or maybe you miss an important problem, and have a problematic recall on your hands. With allergens only one of the many hazards present in a manufacturing facility — what’s a busy QA professional to do?

At Emport LLC, we specialize in pairing manufacturers with the right test kits for their specific needs. We spend time learning the ins and outs of each allergen test kit so that you don’t have to. Over the years, we’ve learned that there are five main questions to ask before you pick an allergen test kit. Read on to learn more.

The five questions you should answer before buying allergen test kits:

1. What are you testing?

Some manufacturing facilities routinely test incoming ingredients, to ensure they are free from gluten or other allergens. Some test for unexpected allergens in their finished products — testing the first items off the line, and/or testing random product for compliance. Still others only test surfaces. Not every test kit can handle both product and surface testing, so you’ll want to ensure you read kit guidance carefully.

Some kits require you to buy additional materials in order to test both products and surfaces. They may still be a good fit for your facility — just be sure to factor the full cost into your comparison.

2. But really — what are you testing?

More than simply ‘products’ or ‘surfaces’, you’ll want to consider the makeup of the items you produce. Simple foods with minimal processing are generally easy to work with — any allergenic proteins will be relatively “available” for the relevant kit to identify. The more complex your product is, the more careful you need to be.

It’s also important to consider cross-reactivities, or non-allergenic foods that will trigger a positive result. These vary widely from brand to brand and kit to kit. If a kit has a known cross-reactivity to an ingredient in your facility, it is likely the wrong product for you. Talk with your vendor, ask to review kit validation data and kit cross-reactivities, and consider whether an alternative brand or kit category may be more suitable.

Each allergen has its own profile, but some food characteristics are universally challenging. If your ingredients or finished goods fall into these categories, kit validation will be especially important: high in fat, antioxidants, tannins, or polyphenols; cooked at a high temperature; especially acidic or basic; fermented or hydrolyzed; produced with enzymes.

3. How much allergen could there be?

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Many allergen test kits are designed to pick up traces of food allergens. They can help you identify a contaminated ingredient or an improperly cleaned line. However, if they are presented with high amounts of allergen, some test kits will return a false negative (often called the “hook effect”). A test kit with a relatively low upper limit (or a relatively small range of detection) can lead to blind spots in your testing protocol. If there’s a reasonable chance that your products could contain high amounts of allergen, you may wish to eliminate some test kits from consideration.

Ask yourself, “if we made a mistake and included an allergenic ingredient in our product — or packed our allergenic product in the allergen-free packaging — when would we discover this? What would happen?” Depending on your answer, you may wish to shop only for kits with high upper limits or without hook effect.

4. How often are you testing?

In order to get the best value for your money, you need to look at your testing frequency. How many tests are in the kit? When does it expire? Will you be able to use the full pack? If not, is a smaller pack available?

Conversely, if you are running tests more frequently — is there a financial advantage to working with a larger kit size?

As an additional consideration, some kits are shelf-stable and others should be stored in the refrigerator (and shipped overnight). This may encourage you to purchase kits more or less frequently, so don’t forget to factor storage locations and shipping frequency into your considerations.

5. What can your team handle?

Testing for gluten can be easy with GlutenTox Home!

All rapid on-site test kits claim to be easy. And compared with ELISA testing — they are! But there are still differences between the kits, and they are important to consider. Only you know how much your team is capable of, and so only you can determine whether or not they can successfully follow the kit instructions. After all, running a test incorrectly is a waste of time, a waste of money, and an opportunity to miss important information.

Consider the following of your team: Will they remember to bring kit components out of the refrigerator in time to hit room temperature? Will they successfully manage any measuring required? Can they appropriately select a representative sample of the size needed? How many tests will they need to run at once? Are there any potential challenges in reading or interpreting test results?

Once you’ve answered these five questions — call Emport LLC.

Our team will walk you through several options, and make a recommendation from amongst our catalog. Not only that, but we can help you plan out your validation and train your team.

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