Must-know facts about allergens every food company should know
As many as 15 million people in the United States have food allergies - and nearly half of those are children. It is no wonder that allergen regulations were part of FSMA. Facilities are now required to establish and implement food safety systems that include preventive controls, supply chain analysis and recall plans.
These three different companies pull together a complete suite of services that include consulting on menu labeling, certification and training in the areas of food allergies and food sensitivities, audits for food service, and certification for product free from different allergens.
Why did you become so passionate about allergen awareness?
After I began my menu nutritional company, MenuTrinfo, I realized we could also help identify allergens in menu items for restaurants. I knew this could be a game changer for those with food allergies. It is at times a life threatening challenge and I knew the hospitality business could in fact keep the “hospital out of Hospitality.”
How can food companies prevent undeclared, supplier-introduced allergens?
Supplier-introduced allergens can be prevented by organizations establishing processes, policies and supplier communications so to be alerted when the product changes. Using a great service or product for alerts and information in this case can be life changing. No food company, restaurant, chef or server can predict product changes or substitutions. That is why best practices, certification and policies should always be set in place and reviewed frequently.
What internal processes should food companies review when known allergens are on the menu? (documentation, allergen control plans, training, certifications, audits, etc)
We say, “from loading dock to tabletop.” The information here actually is in a 90 minute training class but for brevity use the guideline from the moment you order any ingredient all the way to the diner having enjoyed your great food and is heading out the door with a smile. That entire “flow of food” is what we look at and teach to and finally audit when overseeing the process.
When a food company begins working with a supplier, what specific info should be documented on an allergen checklist?
A full and complete list of all ingredients including all the sub-ingredients and partials. It would be wonderful (although not mandated by the government) to also have all information if any of the big 8 allergens are contained in any of the facilities where the raw products are manufactured.
What role does technology play? How should companies leverage technology?
Technology is the game changer for the ever changing ingredient statements. Documentation and education are key. Technology is supposed to make our lives easier. You should be storing documents and audits in a centralized place so your key stakeholders can access them when you need them. Use standard operating procedures so that labels provide all the necessary information and data which again is stored in your software platform and can be accessed quickly. If done well and properly, it can be the difference between life and death.
What is your advice to food companies on how to best communicate allergens to customers?
Full disclosure. You should make sure you are confident in your ability to accommodate those with food allergies. Take training classes to stay current and informed of latest best practices and regulations. Then share the knowledge with others at your company.
What are resources that food companies can turn to in order to be compliant or if they need more information?
FoodLogiQ, my company, AllerTrain plus FARE and FACCT are both nonprofit food allergy organizations in the country today and have a wealth of information on their websites.