Recent FDA guidance - issued to help firms experiencing difficulties in sourcing some ingredients during the pandemic – spells out that manufacturers should not replace difficult-to-source ingredients with the big 8 allergens or “other foods such as sesame, celery, lupin, buckwheat, molluscan shellfish, and mustard that are recognized as priority allergens in other parts of the world.”
It also says firms should avoid ingredients such as glutamates and sulfites that can cause adverse reactions in some people.
‘It is critical that the food allergy community trust the food labels’
However, some consumers are allergic or sensitive to scores of ingredients not listed in the guidance, and have flooded FARE’s social media channels with posts reflecting their concerns, CEO Lisa Gable told FoodNavigator-USA.
“We understand that COVID-19 has made it difficult for food manufacturers … however, it is critical that the food allergy community trust the food labels.”
To assuage consumers’ concerns, manufacturers should at a minimum be required to inform consumers of any changes to formulations via their website and social media channels and consider adding stickers to products or at the point of sale to alert shoppers to changes, said Gable.
“Part of the problem is the manner in which it was communicated; it caused a great deal of confusion. However, we’ve had conversations with [CFSAN director] Dr Susan Mayne and others at the FDA as well as food and beverage associations and have urged brands to go immediately online and explain the changes they are making as soon as possible. They can update QR codes, update smartlabels, online shopping sites and so on.”
Omissions more likely than substitutions
On the plus side, she added: “Most of the large food companies we’ve spoken to say they do not actually anticipate making changes to their products [in part because they have greater purchasing power and better contingency planning than smaller players],and that if they do, it would most likely be an omission rather than a substitution,” she said, “So we’ve been able to reassure consumers somewhat.”