By: Adam Friedlander, Specialist, Food Safety and Technical Services, Food Marketing Institute
Across the food industry, voluntary warnings – called precautionary allergen labeling (PAL) – are included on finished products, or display cases, to alert customers about potential cross-contact with an unintended allergen source. The FDA, academics, and allergic consumers continue to evaluate the scientific legitimacy of these claims in an effort to provide shoppers with an honest and transparent label. Common examples of these food allergen advisory statements include:
Precautionary statements should never be confused with a required “Contains [allergen]” statement, which is regulated under Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA). It is important to note these advisory statements carry equivalent weight when addressing the risk of allergic reaction. PALs cannot be substituted for good manufacturing practices and cannot be misleading, according to the FDA. If cross-contact is inevitable, identify this allergen on the required label, as this will provide consumers with the most educated purchasing decision.
Undeclared allergens are the leading cause of U.S. food recalls, representing 47 percent of total recalls. Human errors -- such as omitting allergens from the label, using the wrong package or label, using incorrect terminology, and failing to carry forward information from an ingredient to the final label -- comprise 88 percent of allergen recalls, whereas 12 percent come from cross-contact, according to the total number of allergen recalls reported in a 2013 Journal of Food Protection study.
Below are some key areas of an effective allergen management to reduce food allergen risk:
As meals prepared within the stores increase, it is critical to implement strict cleaning, labeling, and documentation protocols to effectively manage allergens, and ensure accurate information is presented to consumers about allergens. The retail food industry is committed to implementing strong allergen management practices to protect consumers through transparent and trustworthy labeling.
Visit the FMI Retail Allergen Resource Guide and download the new SQF Food Safety Code for Food Retail to learn more about effective allergen management.
For more information, visit www.FMI.org/FoodSafety.
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