My oldest daughter brought a letter home from school. There will soon be a new boy in her class. He suffers from a severe peanut allergy. The letter contained an urgent request to giving kids putting peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. It asked children who had peanut butter at breakfast, to please wash their hands well before coming to school. The teacher will be trained in the use of EpiPen and taking emergency action.
Allergic reactions vary from mild to fatal. For people in the highest risk categories, such as this classmate, the smallest trace of the allergen can cause a life-threatening reaction. That unpredictability is ever present, which makes even the most everyday things stressful (birthday treats, for example). Medication is only focused on reducing the allergic reaction. Essentially, when it is already too late to do anything else. Food allergy treatment therefore consists of avoiding the foods to which you are allergic. To do this, consumers have to be able to trust the information on the package. That doesn’t always work out. Incorrect or unreported allergens are the most common reasons for recalls.
As an industry, we must continue to improve allergen control.
This is why we, as an industry, must continue to improve allergen control. Start with your ingredients. Do you know where they come from in the international food network and what risks are associated with them? Prevent cross contamination in your own factory. Be sure that you can safely process products with different allergen profiles. Have you installed physical partitions and barriers between the different zones in the factory? How do you guarantee an “allergen clean” at product changeovers? How do you ensure production employees do not contaminate allergen free products?
The number of people with food allergies is increasing, scientists do not know exactly why. As the food industry, we owe this classmate and ourselves to put our best foot forward. Greater food safety prevents costs of a recall, and directly contributes to the quality of life for this growing group of consumers. It’s a win-win situation!