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  • Pulsed Light Reduces Allergens in Peanuts
Jun 2011
GAINESVILLE, Fla., June 15, 2011 — Pulsed UV light can reduce the allergenic potential of peanuts by up to 90 percent, a discovery that may help make food safer for people with nut allergies. The concentrated bursts of light, known as PUV, changes peanut allergens so that human antibodies cannot recognize them and cause the release of histamines, which are responsible for allergy symptoms such as itching, rashes and wheezing.

“We believe the allergen can be controlled at the processing stage, before the product even goes to the shelf,” said Wade Yang, an assistant professor in the University of Florida’s food science and human nutrition department.

More than 3 million Americans are allergic to peanuts and tree nuts with reactions ranging from skin rashes to death. Peanuts have been found to cause the majority of deaths in the US from anaphylaxis, or severe allergic reaction. Allergic reactions can occur from eating peanuts or from even the slightest exposure in some individuals. Currently, the best way for those with the allergy to be safe is to completely avoid peanuts.

Using PUV, Yang, a member of UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, reduced the allergenic potential of three of the most allergenic proteins in peanuts. The reduction of one of the proteins — Ara h2, the most potent of the three — marked the first time this reduction has been achieved with PUV.

Yang confirmed the allergy reduction using a biochemical test and by exposing the proteins to serum samples from patients with peanut allergies to see if an allergic reaction occurred.

Wade Yang, an assistant professor in UF’s food sciences and human nutrition department (left) and graduate student Sandra Shriver use pulsed ultraviolet light to reduce allergens in peanuts in Yang’s laboratory in Gainesville. (Image: Tyler L. Jones/IFAS)

Allergens were reduced in peanut extracts and peanut butter. Preliminary, unpublished results also demonstrate that PUV can significantly reduce the allergenic potential of whole peanuts.

Dr. Shih-Wen Huang, a pediatric allergist in UF’s College of Medicine, said epidemiological data show an increase in food allergies over the past 20 years.

Scientists don’t know why, he said, but there could be multiple factors involved, including living in a cleaner environment, that shifts our immune response away from protecting against germs to reacting to innocent food substances. He also noted that increased peanut consumption is part of an overall trend toward healthier eating.

Huang said epinephrine often is recommended for treating severe allergic reactions, and for milder reactions, antihistamines. And although epinephrine and antihistamines alleviate allergenic symptoms, Yang said he would like to prevent the allergy at the processing stage with PUV, before it reaches humans.

Yang’s future research involves developing a one-step roasting and allergen reduction process by PUV to produce hypoallergenic whole peanuts.

The study was published this week by the journal Food and Bioprocess Technology.

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