The founders of an online food allergen guide are hoping to fill a void left by the current federal food allergen labeling system in an effort to make packaged foods safer for those suffering from food allergies.
It began as an effort by Debra Bloom to vet locally available snacks for contamination of peanuts, treenuts and eggs before her daughter (allergic to all three foods) started kindergarten.
She compiled a list of “safe snacks”, calling each manufacturer to ensure the products weren’t cross contaminated during production, which isn’t currently required on product labels. (While manufacturers must clearly state on labels which of the eight major food allergens are ingredients of a product, they’re not required to disclose the possibility of cross contamination. Additional warnings, including “may contain…” and “manufactured on equipment with…” are voluntary.)
The eight-page Safe Snack Guide of treenut-, peanut- and egg-free packaged foods was distributed to parents and local schools. Soon enough, school districts across the country began to pick it up, so Debra and her husband Dave Bloom put the guide online. “We revisited the guide a few weeks later and already had thousands of hits,” Dave told FoodNavigator-USA.
Building on the success of the guide, the Blooms formally established SnackSafely.com in 2011, and last month the organization launched an initiative partnering directly with manufacturers to provide accurate information regarding the exposure of each of their products to allergens during manufacturing and processing. The site will soon be expanded to include the Food Allergen Labeling Consumer Protection Act's (FALCPA) other major food allergens: milk, soy, fish, shellfish and wheat; plus gluten, sesame and mustard.
Consumers with allergies believe if they don’t see it on the label, that means it’s safe
“There are people out there who are so allergic that a mere trace allergen can put them in anaphylaxis,” Dave told FoodNavigator-USA. “And the problem is that a lot of consumers believe if they don’t see it on the label, that means it’s safe. An even bigger issue perhaps is for the parent who has to send a snack into the classroom with a child who’s not allergic, they have no clue at all. That’s why snacksafely.com works directly with manufacturers.”
To join, the manufacturer creates a profile on SnackSafely.com and then discloses how each of 11 major food allergens are processed during production. The answers are vetted, and if compliant, the participating manufacturer earns a listing for (and the chance to advertise) each of its qualifying products in the Safe Snack Guide, which is downloaded roughly 30,000 times per month. The products will also appear in SnackSafely.com’s forthcoming app.
So far 21 manufacturers have signed on with SnackSafely.com, including Enjoy Life, Tootsie Roll Industries, Late July Organic Snacks, SoyNut Butter Co., and Lucy’s.
“We need full disclosure of ingredients in foods. The whole idea of having something that says ‘natural flavoring has to go away and be replaced with actual ingredients,” Dave said. “That way, if you are a consumer with a sesame or mustard allergy, or a combination of dairy and soy, you’ll be able to come to us, and—based on disclosures manufacturers themselves have made—have confidence that the product is free of those allergens.”
The FDA is going to have to deal with this issue, likely will happen in phases
Noting that he’s unsure when the FDA will formally address cross contamination labeling, Dave said he thinks the agency will along similar lines as it did with gluten, starting with setting thresholds for what constitutes allergen-free.
“That serves the allergen community well because then they’re able to find free-from products,” he said. “But we also need to have disclosures for when top eight or top 12 are actually processed on the same equipment or in the same facility. I can’t predict when that will happen, but it will likely happen in phases. It has to because there’s a rising epidemic of food allergies in this country and around the world. No one really knows why—it’s probably a combination of issues. Until there’s a cure for food allergies or something to arrest growth, the FDA is going to have to deal with this issue.”
THE FOODNAVIGATOR-USA FORUM: GLUTEN-FREE IN PERSPECTIVE
11:30 am EST, April 30, 2014
Find out more about gluten-free market trends and growth opportunities; the science behind celiac disease, gluten intolerance and wheat allergy; the technical challenges of formulating great-tasting gluten-free products; and the latest consumer research.
This LIVE online panel debate moderated by FoodNavigator-USA editor Elaine Watson brings together world-renowned celiac disease researcher Dr Alessio Fasano; TJ Mcintyre from leading gluten-free manufacturer Boulder Brands (Udis, Glutino); Dr David Sheluga, director of commercial insights at food and ingredients giant ConAgra Foods; and Tom Vierhile, innovation insights director at Datamonitor.