Food panel testing is used to determine which food allergies and sensitivities you have. A blood sample is drawn and then tested in a lab to see if there is an allergic reaction to the various food allergens in the panel. Several companies provide food panel testing to help customers identify foods that may need to be eliminated from their diet.
A blood test that doctors typically perform to tests for food allergies that can cause reactions such as rashes, hives and difficulty breathing is the IgE antibody test. There are also several companies that provide tests for food “sensitivities” that measure other types of immune response not related to the IgE antibodies that white blood cells produce. For example, ALCAT Worldwide uses the antigen leukocyte antibody (ALCAT) test, which they claim can detect food sensitivities that contribute to migraines, aches, fatigue, gastrointestinal disorders and other conditions. Another company, Sage Med Lab, tests for IgG antibody immune complex formation, which they claim can detect food sensitivities that can contribute to arthritis, multiple sclerosis and many other diseases.
The amount of potential food allergens tested is extensive. Food panels can include common allergens like nuts, dairy, soy and wheat, as well as less common ones like fruits, vegetables, spices, food additives and food coloring. The number of allergens tested depends on the company. For example, ALCAT tests for either 100, 150 or 200 different food allergens, while Sage Med Lab tests for 132 different allergens.
Food panel testing from an independent lab can be expensive. For example, ALCAT currently charges $350 for a 100-food panel test and $595 for a 200-food panel test, plus the cost of obtaining a blood sample. Other companies, such as Sage Med Lab, require a referral from a health care professional, and some health insurance providers will cover the cost of testing.
IgE Testing Accuracy
IgE antibody testing is considered an accurate alternative to the standard allergy test that doctors use, the skin prick test. The skin prick test involves pricking a patient’s skin to expose him to an allergen and therefore may not be safe for patients that have skin conditions or extreme allergic reactions. The IgE antibody test can be used safely on these individuals, although an estimated 10 to 25 percent of patients may have false negative results for foods that they are actually allergic to.
Accuracy of Other Tests
Not all types of food panel tests are widely accepted in the medical community. For example, both IgG antibody and ALCAT testing were labeled as “inappropriate” allergy tests in a 2010 review article published in "Singapore Medical Journal." Consult with a medical practitioner such as a doctor or allergist/immunologist when selecting food panel testing procedures.