Living With “Big 8” Food Allergies

Living With “Big 8” Food Allergies

NYT article discusses food allergen issues and solutions.

January 30, 2019

A New York Times article by Senior Editor for Digital Training Eric Athas who has a five-year-old son allergic to almonds and hazelnuts, discusses the difficulties of grocery shopping for those with food allergies. The article includes a number of stories of real people facing the challenges – and life-threatening repercussions – of food allergies, and what is being done by consumers, advocacy groups, and manufacturers.

For example:

  • A push is being made by advocacy groups to mandate sesame labeling, with FDA currently considering whether to add sesame to the list of major allergens. “Sesame should be included as one of the top allergens that needs to be disclosed on labels,” said Lisa G. Gable, chief executive of Food Allergy Research & Education Chief Executive Lisa G. Gable, in the article. Sesame labeling is already mandated in Canada, the European Union and Australia.
  • Although “precautionary allergen labeling,” is intended to alert consumers to some allergen risks, the labels are unregulated, so their meanings differ from company to company. The article notes a 2017 study, published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice, which showed that consumers make “risk assessments” based on the words used in this kind of labeling. “We’re making consumers decide, based on the wording of that precautionary allergen label, what seems safe for themselves or their child, and I think that’s a huge issue,” said Dr. Ruchi S. Gupta, a professor of pediatrics at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago and an author of the study. Thus, consumers want regulations to include labeling for possible cross contact of allergens.
  • The article also notes the number of food recalls that involve erroneous labeling, with food made using one of the eight major allergens not properly labeled. In 2018, about one-third of F.D.A. recalls involved prepackaged foods that were erroneously labeled, according to data compiled by the agency.

 To provide the manufacturer viewpoint, NYT cites Nestlé USA Director of Food Safety David C. Clifford, as stating that the key is applying “allergen management” across the expansive and complex operation, and describing Nestlé’s approach as “objective, science-based, risk-based.” Clifford’s team also conducts allergen safety training throughout the company, he said. “It’s a very serious responsibility that we have to feed the public, and the responsibilities around these systems extend horizontally across the organization.”

The article also cites a statement from The Hershey Company, which runs a training program for employees that “includes video interviews with allergic children and their families who face the challenges of allergen management on a personal level every day of their lives.”

Advising parents to reach out directly to food manufacturers, even if it is time-consuming, the author notes, Manufacturers like these cater to the allergy community, using branding to make it clear their foods are clear of allergens.”