As summer approaches, people all across America are getting ready to fire up their grills and cook everything from hot dogs to steaks. However, millions of Americans with seafood allergies cannot eat shrimp, a delicacy that many people enjoy during this season. However, researchers have developed a new method that could change that. The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry has reported that a new method called reverse-pressure sterilization can produce a less-allergenic shrimp product. When tested in mice sensitive to crustaceans, the new product did not cause severe reactions.

Studies have shown that some of the most common foods that people are allergic to are dairy products, wheat, peanuts, and seafood. The immune system mistakes some proteins from these foods for an intruder and launches a response against them. In minor cases, the response can provide some discomfort or swelling, and in severe cases, it can be life-threatening. However, the proteins to which the immune system reacts can be altered or degraded when heated, which might prevent antibodies from recognizing them, and thus make the food safer for people with allergies to consume.

Previous studies on other shellfish, such as oysters, have suggested that allergenicity can actually increase after roasting, while others show that it decreases. Na Sun and colleagues wanted to understand exactly how allergens in shrimp change during post-processing. They also wanted to see if they could create a more hypoallergenic product.

The team separated samples of shrimp (Penaeus vannamei) into three groups. One group was raw, the second was roasted, and the third was roasted and then treated with reverse-pressure sterilization, in which the crustaceans were exposed to high pressure and steam. All three groups were mashed into pastes, and each was given to a separate group of mice that had a shrimp allergy.

The raw and roasted shrimp caused similar reactions, including increased levels of histamine and damage to the spleens and lungs, suggesting that roasting alone did not change the protein’s properties much. However, the third group had milder reactions and less organ damage.

Upon examining the allergen proteins in the shrimp samples more closely, the team found that roasting caused these proteins to change shape, but antibodies could still bind. However, reverse-pressure sterilization caused the proteins to cluster together, hiding the binding sites. This hindered antibodies from latching on, and thus prevented a severe allergic reaction.

The researchers concluded that reverse-pressure sterilization is a new and efficient method to reduce the allergenicity of shrimp. The new method also elucidated the unique protein changes that caused it. This could be a significant breakthrough for people with seafood allergies, who can now enjoy shrimp without fear of an allergic reaction. However, the researchers cautioned that more testing is needed before the method can be used on a commercial scale. It is hoped that this new method can be extended to other seafood to create safer and more hypoallergenic products.


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