Mealworms & allergies

Is it possible to be allergic to mealworms ?

Your health and happiness is our main concern. The topic of allergies is a serious one and we want that you can safely enjoy your mealworms. Therefore, we reviewed the last studies available and inform you on the most recent knowledge. If you simply want our recommendations, scroll down to the last part of this post. If you want more information about allergies, let's start !


WHAT IS AN ALLERGY?

An allergic reaction is an overreaction of your immune system. The immune system's role is to protect your body against invaders such as bacteria and viruses. When you develop an allergic reaction, your immune system starts to fight against a normally harmless substance, just as it would attack your body. The substances that usually trigger an allergic reaction are proteins. The severity of these reactions can go from itchy eyes, trouble in breathing to a severe anaphylactic reaction. Which food can cause an allergy? 


Food & allergy

According to the FAO : 

« Many food allergies are attributable to a small group of eight foods or food groups: cows' milk, eggs, fish, crustaceans, peanuts, soybeans, tree nuts and wheat. More than 170 foods have been documented to cause food allergies. »  

The CAC (Codex Alimentarius Commission) stated that the presence of these different ingredients should be present on food labels. It seems that almost every food has the potential to trigger an allergic reaction. Some of these allergies occur during the childhood, adolescence or adult age. Some allergies last for life and other resorb. And what about mealworms ?


Mealworms & allergy

Mealworms are related to shellfish and they belong to the most abundant and diversified phylum of the animal kingdom: the arthropods. 

According to this relation, the literature and different studies stated that insects, dust mites and crustaceans are sharing some common allergens. Some components that can trigger an allergic reaction present in mealworms are more or less similar to the ones in crustaceans. So, if you are allergic to shellfish, you can also be allergic to mealworms.1 Let's dig a little bit further :

  • It has been established that temperature and digestion have an effect on the allergenicity. It can diminish, eliminate or increase allergenicity of the food. A group of Dutch scientists2 tested the allergenic potential of mealworms after different transformation such as boiling, frying or deep-freezing. They conclude that :
« Heat processing as well as in vitro digestion did diminish, but not eliminate cross-reactivity. Results show that individuals allergic to house dust mites or crustaceans might be at risk when consuming mealworms, even after heat processing. »
  • Another study conducted with rats, tested the effect of mealworm protein and their allergenicity when they were fed with mealworm proteins for 90 days. 3
    They found no evolution regarding the sensibilization neither any dose dependance. The conclusion is :

"Although we conducted an allergic reaction test under limited conditions in this study, our results indicated that adverse immune responses were not shown implying that potential hypersensitivity from edible insect > Tenebrio molitor> consumed as a food source is rare."

  • Most of the literature4 about allergies related to mealworms addresses the subject of contact or respiratory allergies. Several cases of skin reaction, eye itching or asthma have been related when people were in contact with mealworms and the frass. These cases have been observed for people handling high quantity of flour, mealworms and the frass for a long period of time in a closed space. These are mainly people working in bait producing facilities or in bakeries. We took this in into account when we developed the Hive. We chose to provide an automated home scale device: Few labor and maintenance required drastically minimizes the risks.

CAN I SAFELY EAT MEALWORMS?

We want everybody to be safe when eating mealworms! Simply as it is, as every other food you eat, there is always a "risk"5.
There is no specific danger with eating insects, we just want you to be well informed :

  • If you're allergic to shellfish, we recommend to not eat mealworms.
  • The subject of allergy is really complicated and there are still a lot of pending questions regarding it. So, if you are allergic to one food you may be more sensitive to other food products such as insects as well.
  • With our Hive, the mealworms are starved before being harvested. During this time, they will have time to finish their digestion. Even with these steps and precautions, some little amount of gluten can remain if they have been fed on wheat or oats. If you suffer from the coeliac disease, we recommend to feed your mealworms on gluten-free cereals such as rice or corn for example.
  • Let's finish with the best one : If you have no food allergies, you can freely eat your healthy & crunchy mealworms ! Enjoy!

Sources :

  • Edible insects - Future prospects as food and feed - FAO (2014)1
  • Van Broekhoven, Bastiaan-Net, de Jong, Wichers - Influence of processing and in vitro digestion on the allergic cross-reactivity of three mealworm species. Food Chemistry Volume 196, 1 April 2016, Pages 1075–10832
  • So-Ri Han, Byoung-Seok Lee (2016) - Safety assessment of freeze-dried powdered Tenebrio molitor larvae as novel food source: Evaluation of 90-day toxicity in Sprague-Dawley rats. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology Volume 77 Pages 206-212 3
  • Guy Dutaud, François Lavaud (2014) - Les ténébrions et leurs larves : allergènes alimentaires du futur ? - Revue Française d'Allergologie 54(1):1–3 · January 2014 4
  • Risk profile related to production and consumption of
    insects as food and feed -EFSA
    5