New EU allergen labeling law to cover all food businesses

Windsor Genova – Fourth Estate Cooperative Contributor

London, United Kingdom (4E) – The coverage of the 14-year-old European Union allergen labeling law will be expanded from packaged food to all food companies, including restaurants, pubs, cafes, catering outlets, deli counters, bakeries and sandwich bars.

At the end of 2014, the new EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation (FIC) will be introduced that will require food businesses to provide allergy information on food sold unpackaged and new rules on labeling allergenic ingredients in prepacked foods, according to the U.K.’s Food Standard Agency.

Under the new FIC, the guideline daily amounts will be replaced with a reference intake and allergen information must be highlighted in the ingredients list. The EU’s top 14 allergens are celery, cereal containing gluten, crustaceans, eggs, fish, lupin, milk, mollusks, mustard, nuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, soya and sulphur dioxide. Products without ingredients list, like beer, will have to carry a “contains” label.

The label also has to state if a product is processed in one country but the ingredients come from another country. The use of the generic term “vegetable oil” will be banned and instead food manufacturers must specify the oil. Meat and fish products will have to mention the addition of water or other ingredients, such as vegetable protein. Their label also has to carry the word “formed” if it is made from more than one piece of fish or meat.

EU companies have until Dec. 13 to comply with the new FIC but will be allowed to use old labels until that date and sell them afterwards.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is bolstering existing rules with new ones that specifically target allergens in compliance with the new Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011. The other related law is the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) passed in 2004 requires food manufacturers to clearly state if a product contains any of eight major food allergens affecting Americans. These are milks, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat and soy.

The FALCPA does not require restaurants to have allergen charts or for its staff to learn how to prepare allergen-safe food. But U.S. restaurants, like Gastronomia Culinaria, are posting allergen charts to ensure the safety of their patrons. Gastronomia Culinaria owner Vicenzo Pezzilli and his staff took up a food allergy course from Hudson Allergy. The training includes how to handle phone inquiries from customers with allergies and how to ensure that there is no cross contamination of ingredients during food preparation.

Hudson Allergy co-founder Dr. Tim Mainardi said there should be an easy way for restaurants to manage customers with food allergies even before they enter the restaurant.

“People who feel comfortable going to a restaurant because they take them seriously are far more likely to go back to that restaurant and bring their friends with them,” Mainardi said.

That and the assurance that all their customers are safe have prompted Pezzilli to consider changing their menu to highlight ingredients that are often causes of allergic reaction.

“Even if it is a little bit of a headache, it’s better to be safe than sorry,” Pezzilli told NY1.

Another food company that has its own allergen chart is Soupman Inc. (OTC: SOUP). The maker of The Original Soupman soups and operator of restaurants and food trucks of the same name shows the chart on its website and restaurant premises. The chart that looks like a punch list lists the nearly 40 Soupman soup variants in one column followed by eight columns for the eight major allergens. An X mark is under the allergen column corresponding to each soup variant.

The chart shows that most of their soups have milk, wheat and soy. Only their borscht, fruit cornucopia, gazpacho, mushroom barley, and veg veg do not have milk while dishes without wheat include borscht, butternut squash, cream of asparagus, cucumber mint, fruit cornucopia gazpacho, Manhattan clam, tomato zucchini, veg veg, tomato basil soup man, tomato wild rice, and so many beans. Those without soy are borscht, cucumber mint, fruit cornucopia, gazpacho, Manhattan clam, seafood gumbo and turkey chili.

Soupman doesn’t have fish and peanuts on its menu so those allergic to such ingredients are safe. Only a handful of the items have crustacean and mollusk while mulligatawny soup has almonds, which is considered a tree nut. The chart also lists lesser known ingredients that may cause allergies.

There are about 15 million people across the U.S. who suffer from food allergies, according to John L. Lehr, chief executive of the advocacy group Food Allergy Research and Education. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a 50 percent increase in food allergies among children between 1997 and 2011.

The FDA said that most common food recalls in the U.S. aren’t for salmonella, listeria or other pathogens but for the eight allergens that accidentally get into foods because of manufacturing or labeling errors. The FDA said dozens of reactions were associated with recalls reported from 2005 to 2010 with 10 percent to 15 percent of such reactions being severe and can lead to death if untreated.

“The major reason for recalls is putting the wrong product in the box or container,” said Steve L. Taylor, professor and co-director of the Food Allergy Research and Resource Program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, according to NBC News.

There have been nearly 70 such recalls so far this year. Last week, Ocean Spray, the top maker of dried cranberries, announced it is recalling two production lots of its Greek Yogurt Covered Craisins because the snacks may contain peanuts instead. The most common and severe allergens in the U.S. are peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

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