The USDA has released a set of guidelines to help reduce adverse reactions to allergens in food. The 26-page set will help meat, poultry, and processed egg product producers to manage ingredients that trigger allergic reactions. There are eight main food allergens addressed in this country: eggs, fish, soy, tree nuts, milk, peanuts, wheat, and shellfish. Those ingredients are the ones that cost the most allergic reactions, about 90%. The guidelines state that the number of recalls of USDA-regulated products for undeclared allergens increased from seven in 2008 to 29 in 2012.
USDA’s Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Al Almanza said in a statement, “our mission as a public health agency is to protect America’s most vulnerable populations, including children, from harm, and these new guidelines do just that. Beyond keeping our families safe, these guidelines also provide a useful tool to help food companies avoid preventable, costly recalls.” Most recalls issued in this country are for foods with undeclared allergens. The law states that any allergen must be declared on the label and in the ingredient list.
The CDC estimates that about 2% of adults and 4 to 8% of children have food allergies. Allergic reactions are the body’s overreaction to fight against what it perceives as a threat. Symptoms of an allergic reaction can range from tingling in the mouth and face, wheezing, difficulty breathing, vomiting, stomach cramps, hives, shortness of breath, weak pulse, dizziness, and can lead to anaphylactic shock and death. Anyone can develop allergies at any time. Some children grow out of their allergies, but many do not.
The guidelines have a section listing the “Big Eight” allergens and some specific foods under each allergen that may be especially problematic. For instance, wheat is sometimes found in soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and baking powders, while shellfish is sometimes found in glucosamine, and eggs can be found in macaroni, marshmallows, pasta, and lecithin. Soybeans can be found in bread crumbs and soaps, and tree nuts can be found in alcoholic extracts. Employees must be aware of these hidden allergens.
The government thinks that these new guidelines will help ensure that product labels declare all of the ingredients in that product, and that products do not have undeclared allergens or any undeclared ingredients. Prevention and control measures cover packaging, labeling, storage, checklists, and allergen training.
The prevention and control measures include inspecting incoming ingredients, cross-referencing components of a product, and separation of possible hazards. Equipment must be cleaned and sanitized, especially after an allergenic product has had any contact with materials. Properly declaring allergens in a product is just as important as identifying incoming ingredients and handling and processing allergenic products.
In addition, all staff that handle and order ingredients should receive training. An establishment should have written procedures to identify, prevent, control, and declare allergens.