Top 8 Food Allergens: A Guide for the Manufacturer
Food allergies. Until recently, this subject was primarily centered around peanuts and tree nuts and the random family member or friend who would blow up like a balloon if they consumed them.
As of late, understanding food allergens has expanded to tests that can be taken at home and mailed into a lab. Consumers are looking for convenient ways to discover what these allergens are, how it affects them personally and if their food contains them.
So What are Food Allergens?
Food allergens can vary from person to person, but the FDA has identified the top 8 allergens that tend to afflict the general population:
Upon consumption, to a person who is allergic, these food items will set off a histamine response within the body. This causes the smooth muscle tissue of the respiratory system to become inflamed. Breathing can become labored, the throat can close up and a full blown anaphylactic response can occur requiring an EpiPen containing epinephrine to counteract the episode and return the afflicted person to a state of normalcy. Unfortunately, if not administered in a timely fashion, the effects of consuming a food allergen can be deadly. Scary stuff.
Because of these risks, the FDA has published new regulations regarding the labeling of products for the food manufacturer.
FDA Regulations for Allergen Claims
To protect the consumer, under the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act, products must clearly list ingredient contents and the origin of that ingredient.
Lecithin is a brown fatty substance that is used as an emulsifier in many food products, is largely soy-derived. Since soy makes the list of the top 8 allergens, it must be cited on the nutrition label of the products that contain it. In parentheses next to the actual ingredient lecithin, will be the word “soy”.
It looks something like this: Lecithin (soy)
As an added measure, the FDA requires that an emboldened list citing the any allergen content of the top 8 be placed on the ingredient list as a warning.
Because food allergens have a high potential of either being airborne, think peanut powders, there is also a risk for cross contact to occur. Cross contamination can also occur when a food item that does not make the top 8 allergen list is prepared in the same facility as an allergen. In these cases, the FDA has something to say about that too.
In the instance of possible cross contamination, the product must state that it was prepared in a facility containing said allergens. Again, this is an added attempt to protect the consumer from potential allergic reaction due to inadvertent contact with an ingredient they may be allergic to.
Foods containing items such as vegetable oil may seem innocent enough, but all vegetable oils have not been created equally. Vegetable oils, typically sourced from a blend of canola and palm oils also may contain traces of soy. To protect the consumer, labeling is taken to the next level with the “may contain” citation.
If there is a possibility of an ingredient containing allergen in a blended ingredient such as our vegetable oil example, food labels also must list the potential item under the header : “may contain traces of” and then list the potential allergen.
Food Allergens and Consumer Trends
In recent years, as the consumer has become more educated about nutrition in general, they have also noted the downsides of consuming allergens on the top 8 list. Whether one has a known allergy, a mild sensitivity or just an aversion to these ingredients, some items on this list are best to avoid for optimal health.
Due to their inflammatory nature and impact on the digestive system, as well as the endocrine system, many practitioners will advise against the consumption of common allergens such as milk, wheat and soy.
Soy, when consumed regularly, has a direct impact on the estrogen response in the body. A person who tends to have hormonal imbalances or a history of reproductive cancers may be cautioned to avoid this food altogether.
Milk and dairy products, though highly consumed in our society, is often not digested properly by the body. As a result, digestive disruptions can occur. Those suffering from gastrointestinal diseases such as Crohns or IBS are often cautioned to avoid foods containing dairy in attempt to not worsen their condition. So although an allergy may not be present, the case for avoidance exists and therefore the labeling process is proven necessary.
Because of the recent education of the consumer regarding the health impact of consuming many allergens on this list, there is a growing population of people who are avoiding these foods altogether. And the trend is only growing. Interestingly enough, labeling a product as “allergen-free” has become not only popular but marketable.
With the growing trend of consumers wanting to have the purest of products for the best possible health outcome, terms such as allergen-free become enticing. It also offers the consumer the convenience of not reading every label when shopping.
Allergens, inflammatory foods and food items that have negative impact on the health of the body are becoming almost a taboo subject in society today. Consumers are looking for the highest quality ingredients that have multifaceted benefits and will not cause a negative response, allergic or otherwise, on their health.
When creating the recipe for your product, take the time to not only consider if your product contains the top 8 allergens, but if it is ultimately profitable for your business given this growing trend.
For allergen identification in your products and all of your other labeling needs please visit us at www.labelcalc.com