Why ATP testing is not sufficient for allergen control programs

April 03, 2017

Testing for adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is an amazingly simple, cost-effective and efficient method of validating the effectiveness of a food manufacturer’s cleaning procedures.

But, using an ATP test for the purpose of detecting food allergens will yield unreliable results. Neogen food safety expert Andrew Ciavattone explains why.

“While ATP testing is a good indicator for how clean a surface or processing equipment is, it is not an effective tool for an allergen control program,” said Ciavattone. “Food allergens are proteins found in foods. Because ATP is abundant in all living and once living cells, it is not a reliable indicator of the presence of allergenic protein on a surface. Instead, many organizations require the use of allergen-specific tests in order to comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act or internal standards. Diagnostic tests for allergens inherently have greater sensitivity for the detection of allergen proteins at trace levels because they are designed for a specific purpose as opposed to a general ATP test.”

Testing for food allergens is important for food manufacturers’ brand protection and health of their consumers with allergies. Using precautionary labelling, such as “May contain” statements, is one way to protect consumers, but doing so limits the market for those that can consume certain products. It is better to know what is in the product, which can be done by implementing allergen verification steps within the sanitation standard operating procedure (SSOP).

“To truly understand if an allergen concern has been addressed, an allergen-specific test is recommended. Lateral flow tests can quickly screen a surface or piece of equipment for the presence of allergenic proteins,” said Ciavattone. “When testing ingredients, push-through, or finished product it is recommended to utilize an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) in which antibodies target and capture allergen proteins for detection and filter out unnecessary proteins. ELISA based methods are less prone to matrix interference and are more reliable for protein detection and accuracy, ensuring that what is in the package matches what is on the label.”

Implementing new SSOPs, or re-evaluating existing SSOPs, can be difficult and labor intensive. Neogen offers free resources to help validate and verify food allergen control programs. These handbooks were developed in association with the University of Nebraska’s Food Allergy Research & Resource Program (FARRP). To obtain free copies of the handbooks, click here.

For more information on Neogen ATP testing products, click here.


Category: Food Safety