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Food Allergies and Allergens

There has been some talk about insect allergens and Id just like to share my thoughts.

I have broken it down into Food Allergens and Environmental Allergens.

Most people can consume insects with out risk. About 2% of the US are allergic to shellfish and they may see some symptoms. The FDA is mainly concerned with the big 8 allergens. I recommend that we communicate that an allergic reaction is a risk and that any insect food products contain voluntary allergen information. If someone is allergic to shellfish they may want to consider passing on insects. More information on my blog wp.me/p4fIin-1W

Environmental allergies is probably a bigger issue... "Wear a mask"!... forum.openbugfarm.com/index.php?p=/discussion/54/wear-a-dust-mask#latest

Comments

  • This is great, Mark, thanks for the blog post!

    It's going to be interesting to see how food product companies handle the allergen issue. It would be great for people to voluntarily communicate allergen information on packaging. Has anyone seen these kinds of warnings on insect products they've bought?

  • edited March 2014

    Those working closely with insects should consider:

  • Thanks @gringojay, that's really useful. I formatted your links as a list to make them easier to pick out. I should copy some of this to the wiki, too.

  • It is difficult to elaborate on all insect allergens ; the insect tropomyosin (as similar to "shellfish" allergy) is partly discussed elsewhere. There are other insect proteins (allergens) that can be provocative & only several clearly documented. Some of these insect proteins that are potentially allergenic to certain individuals are proteins related to what the insect has to de-toxify in it's natural food source. There are others which have roles in insect defense. A lot of insects have proteins that are more directed at gut transport of lipids ("fat, oil") which then end up being passed out as frass (excretion). And these can have sub-groups based on which part of the gut a specific type of these developmental proteins is expressed (made); they in turn can be greater or lesser allergenic to different individuals. Certain female insects will also put out less of these gut transit proteins that some people find allergenic when the female insect's hormonal cycle instigates diminished eating preparatory to their time period of egg laying/carrying. Once this type of insect's clutch of eggs has hatched the female resumes eating & the allergenic gut transit proteins rapidly rises again which causes a spike in allergen content of the frass. A commercial operation may be able to develop a hypo-allergenic (low allergy) product for some insects by waiting to euthanize it's females after their 1st egg clutch hatch & explicitly prevent that female from resuming eating. Since males tend to be steady state eaters they have no drop in gut transit proteins & would be less marketable as a hypo-allergenic product. The frass is itself a substrate for insect symbiotic micro-organisms' activity at different permutations of relative humidity/time/temperature. In effect, frass is subjected to proteolysis (protein cleaving) & a potentially allergenic gut protein there can be altered; which in turn can make for a more reactive molecule that then has characteristics that can provoke an allergic reaction.
    Proteins have 3D folding patterns & unique configurations anywhere can become allergenic. Some insects have wing proteins that are allergenic at different stages to certain individuals.

  • Interesting! The propensity file frass to cause allergic reactions is part of why we're working on a "sheath" for the mealworms farm. We'll share pictures soon!

  • Ingredient statements/labels for Chapul and Exo bars are available on their respective websites. They both contain an allergen statement. They also include the scientific name of the insect used. Mixed Bugs from Thailand Unique do not have an allergen statement (or a nutrition panel which is required for processed foods).

  • We've had first hand accounts of (fortunately non-life-threatening) allergic reactions from tastings run by Daniella Martin of the Girl Meets Bug blog and from Megan Miller of Bitty Foods. For any products being produced in the US it will be absolutely necessary to list an allergy warning or there's risk for major regulatory backlash. Also anyone running a tasting should clearly announce an allergy potential warning for shellfish and dustmite sensitive individuals and should probably have a clear sign as well (for your own liability protection).

    With so much yet to be researched, it's probably not worth the risk to try under-stating the allergy risk, especially when the shellfish allergy affects a relatively small segment of the potential market population.

  • I personally think the "shellfish allergy" thing adds an air of familiarity to an otherwise intimidating food: why not eat bugs? They're just the same as shellfish!

  • Shellfish allergy is mostly from tropomyosin. However other proteins, namely troponin "C", sarcoplasmic calcium binding protein, myosin light-chain & arginine kinase can be problematic. What makes things difficult to assess is how there is cross-reactivity among potential allergens that in combination can get an allergic reaction going. Cross-reactivity is also implicated in who gets sensitized (vulnerable, not immune) in due time & all of a sudden experiences symptoms of an allergic reaction. 10 years ago the estimate was that just over 2% of U.S.A. had some degree of shellfish allergy. I didn't update the calculation for 2014 population, but at that time it amounted to 7 million people in the U.S.A. alone. Returning to frass, there too the way it can(but not always) have cross-reactivity with other potential allergens in the person's life is a factor in whether frass contact triggers an allergic reaction. Similarly, wing proteins shed can be benign until the level reaches a cross-reactivity threshold in a situation - wing proteins that are allergenic usually come from their natural function as a defense protein for that insect's wings.

  • I agree. We need to communicate the allergen risk and can even turn it into a talking point about how insects a similar to other arthropods we eat.

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