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Minimizing Undeclared Food Allergen Risk

Undeclared allergens represent the primary cause of food and beverage recalls. Over the weekend, researchers from around the world gathered at the Lurie Medical Research Center in Chicago to collaborate on combating food allergies. While government regulations mandate the disclosure of ingredients on food labels to protect individuals with food allergies, the rapidly changing landscape of food regulation creates opportunities for risks like allergen cross-contact. Dr. Ruchi Gupta, the director of the Center and a professor of pediatrics at the Feinberg School of Medicine, spearheaded this summit.

To mitigate the risk of costly contaminations, recalls, and reputational damage, businesses can develop an Allergen Management Program. Gupta explained, “As I attended multiple conferences worldwide last year, I noticed that different research aspects were being discussed. However, there was a need for a comprehensive conference that addresses all aspects of prevention if we truly want to make an impact.”

Addressing Undeclared Food Allergens: Strategies for Risk Reduction

With food allergies continuing to affect individuals and families nationwide, food manufacturers and distributors must be vigilant in their manufacturing, packaging, and selling practices. In the United States, Food Allergy Research & Education states that 32 million people have food allergies, many of which are life-threatening or significantly impact their quality of life. Various countries have implemented government regulations to safeguard individuals with food allergies, which may include mandatory disclosure of ingredients on packaged food and beverages.

Minimizing Undeclared Food Allergen Risk

Guest speakers from countries such as Australia, England, India, and Italy shared their expertise during the summit. In the U.S., the FDA recognizes nine major food allergens: crustacean shellfish, eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, soybeans, and wheat. The speakers presented unique research areas, including preventive approaches to address allergies in children, such as early food introduction, and the study of environmental factors contributing to allergies.

Combating Undeclared Food Allergens: Steps Towards a Safer Food Industry

Sesame was recently added as a recognized allergen in 2022 through the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education, and Research (FASTER) Act, requiring its identification on labels of American food products. Gupta expressed her hope that attendees would gain a better understanding of the future direction of the field. Similarly, in Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has a list of 11 priority allergens, including eggs, milk, mustard, peanuts, crustaceans, mollusks, fish, sesame, soy, sulfites, tree nuts, wheat, and triticale, which must be disclosed on pre-packaged foods sold in the country.

In addition to the presentations, researchers formed working groups to collaborate on drafting a consensus paper summarizing the discussions for those who could not attend the event. Improper labeling can lead to product recalls in both countries, which are announced through public notices.

Tackling the Threat of Undeclared Food Allergens: Promoting Allergen Management Practices

For a comprehensive list of recognized food allergens by country, the Food Allergy Research and Resource Program (FARRP) website can be consulted. Dr. Wayne Shreffler, director of the Food Allergy Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, expressed excitement about discussing preventive research during the summit.

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