Currently viewing the tag: "food labels"

We received many questions regarding those “May contain…” type messages you find on labels after our Time article yesterday. With that in mind, here’s a 10 second quiz to see how well you know what those warnings really mean:

The following are allergen warnings you might find on a product that does not contain the allergen as an ingredient. Simply put them in order of safest to most risk that the product contains traces of the allergen:

A – May contain allergen
B – Manufactured in a facility that also processes allergen
C – Manufactured on equipment that also processes allergen
D – May contain traces of allergen
E – [No statement]

You have 10 seconds while we bring you this graphic. Go!

10sec test

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Time ArticleAn article by Markham Heid posted on Time’s website yesterday seeks to answer whether you can rely on those voluntary “May contain…” and “Manufactured on equipment that also processes…” warnings that appear on food products. We say voluntary because the FDA only requires that manufacturers disclose when a Top-8 allergen is an ingredient of a product, not when there is a danger of cross-contact with an allergen that is processed on the same equipment or in the same facility as the product.

While the article is well written, it may mislead the reader by giving the impression that you can rely on labels to determine whether a food product is safe because “no one is trying to hoodwink consumers—or expose someone with an allergy to a potentially harmful ingredient.”

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FDA BuildingOn Wednesday, three senate democrats issued a letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) urging the authority to issue a rule requiring manufacturers to label for the presence of sesame.

Sesame – though it is estimated that several hundred thousand Americans are allergic to the seed – is not recognized as an allergen under current FALCPA labeling rules, and so is often hidden under other ingredient names such as “tahini” or “natural flavoring”.

To quote the letter issued by Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Edward Markey (D-MA):

Without required uniform labeling of the presence of sesame, consumers with this serious allergy have no way of protecting themselves or their family members from its potentially life-threatening consequences. As Congress recognized when it passed FALCPA (the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004), accurate and comprehensive allergen labeling is essential.

We at SnackSafely.com wholeheartedly endorse the senators’ efforts to have sesame added to the list of eight allergens recognized by FALCPA, currently peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish.  We urge the FDA to also consider adding mustard and corn to the list as these are also major allergens that concern many families coping with food allergy.

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One question we often field generally reads something like this:

Dear SnackSafely.com:

This product has a statement that says “Contains: Wheat” but doesn’t mention anything about the peanut oil listed as an ingredient! If I wasn’t such a careful label reader I would have missed it entirely! Should I report them?

Signed,
Irate in Indiana

To answer questions like Irate’s, we need to take a close look at a clause in Section 203 of the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 – often referred to as FALCPA, the law that mandates how food products must be labeled with regard to allergens.

Here’s the clause in question (with the emphasis ours):

The term `major food allergen’ means any of the following:

(1) Milk, egg, fish (e.g., bass, flounder, or cod), Crustacean shellfish (e.g., crab, lobster, or shrimp), tree nuts (e.g., almonds, pecans, or walnuts), wheat, peanuts, and soybeans.

(2) A food ingredient that contains protein derived from a food specified in paragraph (1), except the following:

(A) Any highly refined oil derived from a food specified in paragraph (1) and any ingredient derived from such highly refined oil.

(B) A food ingredient that is exempt under paragraph (6) or (7) of section 403(w).”.

So highly refined oils are exempt from the allergen labeling regulations mandated by FALCPA.

VioletWell, we know the Dowager Countess of Grantham (our favorite character from Downton Abbey) is highly refined, but what exactly are highly refined oils and why are they treated differently from the foods from which they are derived?

In a nutshell, highly refined oils are edible oils “resulting from a process that involves de-gumming, neutralizing, bleaching, and deodorizing the oils extracted from plant-based starting materials such as soybeans and peanuts.”

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Nutrimom-FoodSafetyWhen it comes to food allergies, there are two trends in the United States today. First, we have lax labeling requirements that have spawned non-standard, voluntary allergen warnings that lead to confusion among the most vulnerable. Second, the allergic demographic is growing rapidly, and – though food companies are slowly taking notice – they are unsure how to engage.

Tracy Bush – author, advocate, and blogger, who is also known to the food allergy community as Nutrimom – has written an excellent article for the current edition of Food Safety Magazine entitled “Food Companies & Food Allergies: Unite!”, explaining how companies can gain a loyal following by applying some basic precepts to their labeling and production.

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The label… although it provides important nutritional data, it’s wholly unreliable as a source of potential allergen information due to lax, ineffectual FALCPA labeling guidelines.

Complete disclosure of the potential for allergen cross-contact is a necessity for the millions of Americans suffering with food allergies and celiac disease. But in light of FALCPA’s shortcomings, assembling that kind of information means ignoring the label, rolling up our sleeves, and working directly with responsible manufacturers who are as concerned for the food allergy community as we are.

That’s why we established the SnackSafely.com Manufacturer PartnershipWe’ve assembled more than 40 manufacturers that provide us with detailed information regarding the processing of 11 allergens and 4 industry recognized certifications, and we provide that information to you in turn via Allergence, a free service.

Here’s an example listing of a peanut butter alternative from Don’t Go Nuts, one of our featured partners:

Allergence-Sample

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FARE Logo

After learning the results of tests performed by SnackSafely.com and the subsequent admission by ContentChecked that their app ignores “may contain” and other cross-contact warnings, Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) has altered the Corporate Partners page on their website. The advocacy no longer displays language that could be construed as a tacit approval of ContentChecked, replacing it with a general disclaimer that “FARE does not review, test, sponsor, endorse or recommend any products or services that may appear on our website.

SnackSafely.com continues efforts to reach users of ContentChecked who may be relying on the app to determine the allergy content of foods. In tests, ContentChecked declared a series of common food products “free from peanuts” despite clearly visible “may contain peanuts” warnings on their labels. Users relying on the app put themselves and their children at risk of adverse reactions and anaphylaxis.

The company has so far ignored calls by SnackSafely.com to remove their app from the marketplace until its deficiencies are addressed, instead continuing to advertise that “you can feel confident when you are shopping with ContentChecked.”

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FDA Logo

Earlier this week, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a consumer update entitled “Finding Food Allergens Where They Shouldn’t Be“, a must read if you have food allergies or care for someone who does. (Click here to see the publication.)

The update warns that “undeclared allergens” – allergens that are not listed on the label as an ingredient but should be – are the leading cause of food recalls initiated by the FDA.

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allergen-profile

We’ve had many requests over the years to accommodate additional allergens in the Safe Snack Guide – like milk, gluten and sesame – but realized that doing so would severely limit the products we could include.

Instead, we created an interactive service called Allergence. Allergence draws upon the data provided via our platform by the responsible companies that have joined our Manufacturer Partnership. These companies are committed to the allergic community and have opted to provide you with much more information than is available on the label.

SnackSafely.com is now previewing Allergence, which promises full transparency into how 11 allergens are processed during the manufacture of each product.

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Pretzel!Please note that we have removed a number of products from the Safe Snack Guide:

  • Ritz Crackers – all varieties.

We received a report that two sleeves of the Peanut Butter variety of Ritz Crackerfuls were packaged in a box of the Classic Cheddar variety. Though the individual sleeves were clearly labeled as containing the Peanut Butter variety, this could have  led to unthinkable consequences had the error not been discovered by an observant parent before the treat was given to a child.

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