Actionable tips for controlling allergens
Start-up companies and incubators often find it difficult to follow regulations and declare every allergen.
“That’s a big challenge for some smaller companies,” said Steve Taylor, Ph.D., co-director of the Food Allergy Research and Resource Program (FARRP). “They don’t have as much regulatory experience.”
Supermarket in-store and direct-to-consumer bakeries also have a difficult time because of labor and other constraints they face.
“A lot of companies use precautionary labeling because they cannot guarantee that they can remove every last crumb or detectable residue,” Mr. Taylor observed.
Those ambiguous labels drive some allergic people nuts, so to speak. That’s because consumers cannot risk serious health concerns.
As an industry, I think misuse of cross-contact labeling should be avoided as it limits choices for consumers. I see this often with my family where my two daughters are celiac patients, and their choices are limited because of potentially excessive cross-contact labeling.
Joe Stout, founder of Commercial Food Sanitation and Baking & Snack contributing editor, noted that many packages are labeled for allergens that are not intended to be in the product but may contain them because the items run on a specific line or even in the same facility.
That’s the official line for Mr. Stout, but he also has a personal reason for not being a fan of “may contain.”
“At times, I believe that companies misuse cross-contact labeling as a rationale for not being diligent in cleaning or to provide a level of protection from a legal perspective,” he explained. “As an industry, I think this should be avoided as it limits choices for consumers. I see this often with my family where my two daughters are celiac patients, and their choices are limited because of potentially excessive cross-contact labeling.”
And Mr. Stout isn’t alone.
“Labels that say ‘may contain allergens’ or ‘made on a line that may have allergens’ don’t tell consumers a whole lot,” noted Robert Burgh, president, Nexcor Technologies. “And those labels don’t address the biggest problems with a recall — undeclared allergens.”
Risks and rewards
Mr. Taylor noted the No. 1 recall category involves undeclared allergens, and the top reason for recalls involves putting the wrong product in or incorrect label on the package.
“The food industry gets it 99.999% correct, but when they make a mistake, it’s usually pretty serious, such as putting peanut butter cookies in a sugar cookie package,” he said.
As a common practice, he urged operators to review all printed labels when they arrive at the facility to ensure accuracy. Make sure the label matches the formula.
Another suggestion? Think twice about what a company states on the package. What’s good for the marketing department may cause headaches on the production floor.