Introduction

The food industry faces an unprecedented level of scrutiny. Consumers are not only concerned with the safety and quality of food products but also with the way in which they are produced. At the same time, the food industry has developed new ways of assuring appropriate standards for its products and their methods of production, developing systems such as Total Quality Management (TQM) and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) to identify and manage key steps in production.

On the other hand, the adulteration of food has progressed from being a simple means of fraud to a highly sophisticated and lucrative business. The problem is further compounded by the lack of clear international definitions for enforcement purposes. Adulteration of food has ramifications within society and cannot be ignored since interference with foodstuffs may potentially lead to the production of food that is harmful to health.

For all these reasons food safety authorities force a major control. Nowadays quality control analysis is an essential tool in food industry, and due to these reasons a significant number of rapid analytical techniques have arisen during the past decade. One of the most successful groups of these rapid techniques are immunoassays.

Immunoassays are based on the binding properties of antibodies (Abs) with antigens (Ags). An antibody is an immunoglobulin (Figure 1) used by the immune system to identify and neutralize foreign objects. An antibody contains two sites called paratopes that bind antigens. These structures can be thought of as similar to locks and are specific for just one particular part of the antigen called an epitope, which can be thought of as similar to a key.

Antigen binding site tigen binding site

Figure 1 Antibody scheme.

The Ab-Ag interaction is reversible, as determined by the law of mass action, and is based on electrostatic forces, hydrogen bonding, hydrophobic and Van der Waals forces.

The binding properties of an antibody to an antigen have been used for the development of a wide variety of analytical techniques applicable in clinical chemistry, endocrinology, food analysis and environmental control. This chapter summarizes the most representative immunochemical technologies applied to food analysis.

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