Would you purchase a food product if you knew it was made on the same manufacturing line as your allergen of concern? Our analysis shows FARE’s shopping app is prone to providing misleading information
Cross-contact happens when an allergen is inadvertently introduced into a food product during manufacturing. Many in the food allergy community avoid products bearing precautionary allergen labeling (PAL) warnings like “may contain traces of peanuts” or “made on equipment that also processes milk” because they are more prone to cross-contact that could cause reactions when it happens.
The problem is that manufacturers are not required to list PAL warnings on their labels and many don’t, so consumers are left to call the manufacturer to determine whether a product is made on a line or in a facility where their allergen of concern is processed.
Given the voluntary nature of PAL warnings, apps that rely on them to provide consumers with shopping suggestions don’t have reliable insight into how products are manufactured. They are prone to providing wrong/misleading information regarding the potential for cross-contact, and such is the case for FARE’s shopping app.
FARE Makes the Labeling Problem Worse
On November 10, 2022, Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) announced they had formed a partnership with a company called Sifter SPTM in order to “help make shopping easier and less time-consuming” for the allergic community they represent.
In their press release, FARE stated (emphasis ours):
Food shopping is a major challenge for more than 85 million Americans with food allergies and intolerances. Now, using Sifter’s robust, science-based shopping platform, food-allergic individuals and families can make better food decisions and save hours of time when grocery shopping. In addition, the platform is accurate and easy to use, giving peace of mind to those with even the most restrictive dietary challenges.
Based on FARE’s announcement, you would think the organization had vetted the allergen information Sifter provides, especially given FARE’s reputation as a leading food allergy non-profit. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
Upon reading the press release, we decided to compare the suggestions provided by FARE’s app with allergen processing information provided to us directly by the 180+ manufacturers that comprise our Manufacturer Partnership. Within minutes, we identified three products suggested by the FARE app that failed to identify “Top 9” allergens that were processed in the same line as the products.
We learned of FARE’s intent to partner with Sifter in November 2021. At the time, we warned Lisa Gable — FARE’s past CEO — that limitations of the Sifter app would present a danger to the food allergy community by suggesting products made on shared lines without disclosing such. She agreed with our assessment and assured us FARE would not promote Sifter until our concerns were addressed.
Last month when FARE announced the partnership, we took it upon ourselves to confirm the shortcomings of the app had been addressed. What we found astounded us. We immediately reached out to Dr Sung Poblete — FARE’s current CEO — to warn her the app was still providing dangerous misinformation. Despite our analysis, we were told the organization had no intention of changing course.
Stated succinctly, FARE has chosen to co-brand and promote an app they know provides misleading product information, misinformation that will prompt consumers with food allergies to purchase products they wouldn’t otherwise.
After a quick search of SnackSafely’s database, we selected three products we knew were manufactured on shared lines with top allergens based on information provided to us by members of our Manufacturer Partnership. These manufacturers provide us with detailed allergen processing information not provided on the label in exchange for free listings in our publications. We then compared them with listings provided by FARE’s app.
Here follow the results. Note that we condensed each listing to show the relevant data and included red highlighting to call attention to misinformation.
Given the short time it took us to find examples of misleading information, we presume there are hundreds of products — possibly thousands — that are similarly misrepresented. As such, we firmly believe FARE’s Sifter app presents a danger to the allergic community by frequently failing to inform users when their allergens of concern are processed in the same line or facility as the products are manufactured.
The problem is further compounded by FARE’s endorsement and promotion of Sifter which — given FARE’s reputation as a leading advocate for the food allergy community — confers a level of trust to the app it does not warrant.
So why does FARE insist on promoting an app they know provides misleading information to the very community their mission is to protect? We assume they receive compensation for doing so, but the organization should never place funding before safety.
As we were unsuccessful in convincing FARE’s management, we call upon FARE’s board to terminate the organization’s co-branding and promotion of Sifter. Only by doing so can they restore FARE’s reputation as a true advocate for the allergic community.