You pick up a box of cookies and look at the ingredient listing to see if it’s safe for your child with food allergies… let’s say peanuts. The label doesn’t mention ‘peanuts’ as an ingredient, so the next thing you do is check to see if there is a warning statement, like “manufactured in a facility that also processes peanuts“. There isn’t one, so it must be safe, right? Maybe… maybe not.
The Labeling Problem
Though FALCPA – the current labeling regime – was intended to help bring transparency to the allergen content of processed foods, it has a number of serious flaws that leave those with food allergies vulnerable. First, FALCPA mandates that manufacturers disclose the presence of 8 allergens that are ingredients of the product; they are not required to disclose whether the product could be cross-contaminated with the allergens due to manufacturing or sourcing practices. Second, FALCPA provides no standards for the cases where manufacturers decide to disclose the possibility of contamination; warnings like “may contain…“, “manufactured on equipment shared with…” and “manufactured in a facility…” have no standards for when they are used, where they must appear and how they are worded. Third, FALCPA does not considered highly refined oils like peanut oil to be allergens at all, so manufacturers don’t need to highlight them as allergenic ingredients. So there is no foolproof way to know how a product was produced to gauge the danger of cross-contamination with a specific allergen.
In maintaining and updating the Safe Snack Guide, we are constantly faced with the shortcomings of FALCPA. Each time we evaluate a new product we are forced to deal with many questions. Do we know the manufacturer? Do they have a good reputation for labeling for possible cross-contamination? Do they have a readily available customer service department to answer questions regarding allergens? Are their customer service people knowledgeable and responsive? And since manufacturers change their processing and labeling practices all the time, we must continually ask these questions of listed products as well.
Our Answer: The SnackSafely.com Manufacturer Partnership Initiative
SnackSafely.com has developed a platform that will allow us to engage directly with manufacturers to learn much more about how their products are produced. The Manufacturers’ Product Portal provides an easy way for manufacturers to submit their products for inclusion in the Safe Snack Guide while collecting information regarding the processing of the 8 major FALCPA allergens as well as sesame, mustard and gluten.
This platform will form the centerpiece of a new outreach program to foster more transparency in food product manufacturing dubbed the SnackSafely.com Manufacturer Partnership Initiative. The Portal is currently in beta test and is already bearing fruit: the first set of products from four diverse manufacturers is included in today’s update of the Safe Snack Guide:
- SoyNut Butter Company – This manufacturer of I.M. Healthy SoyNut Butter and I.M. Healthy Granola – two product lines that have been featured in the Safe Snack Guide for years – is introducing a new line of gluten-free corn crumbs that replace bread crumbs. The firm also sells bulk quantities of their products directly to schools, food services and institutions;
- Sweet Alexis Bakery – Specializing in baked goods that are peanut, tree nut, egg and dairy free, Sweet Alexis is introducing products new to the Guide including muffin and cookie varieties as well as chocolate cake. The bakery offers larger multi-packs of individually wrapped goods that are especially suited to classroom parties;
- Amanda’s Own Confections – Creating sweets free of the top 8 allergens, Amanda’s Own products have been listed in the Safe Snack Guide since our early days. Their chocolates, sours, gummies and other confections make perfect party and holiday treats;
- Allergic Solution – This Canadian manufacturer joins us for the first time with a line of baking mixes free of the top 10 food allergens. They conduct strict testing of their final products to ensure they are free of peanuts, tree nuts, egg, soy, corn, wheat, gluten, milk, casein, sulfates and nitrites.
These products and future products that are submitted via the Portal will be listed in the Safe Snack Guide in boldface. This will notify you that their respective manufacturers have disclosed details of their manufacture directly to us and that we have a higher level of confidence in these listings because of these direct disclosures. Participating manufacturers also agree to display our badge (pictured above) prominently on their websites so you know that they share your concern for allergens.
All future product submissions to SnackSafely.com will be entered via the Manufacturers’ Product Portal to ensure that we are providing you with the most complete, reliable, up-to-date information. Once the Portal is in full production, we will revisit all current product listings and ask their respective manufacturers to participate in the program as well.
Future Enhancements to Help You, Your School and Your Family
Over the years we have had many requests to address other allergens in addition to peanuts, tree nuts and eggs. Our partnership with manufacturers will allow us to accommodate the full range of FALCPA allergens as well as sesame, mustard and gluten in the coming months. We are also planning future enhancements to our site to provide access to the full breadth of manufacturing data we are collecting so that you can make better informed decisions regarding what to buy.
How You Can Help
Participation in the Safe Snack Guide has always been and will remain free to manufacturers of products of special interest to the allergic community. You can help by supporting these products with your purchases. Though we receive no recompense for your purchases, they encourage manufacturers to work with us to provide you with the transparency you need to make informed decisions. (Don’t forget to tell them you found their products in the Safe Snack Guide!)
We also encourage you to contact the manufacturers of your favorite products and ask them to participate in our initiative by registering with the Portal and submitting their products for inclusion in the Guide. Their participation will help expand our universe of products and ensure that we maintain up to date information on their manufacturing and labeling practices.