Food Allergies Are on the Rise in Western Countries
Learn how to label your foods for US and EU markets to comply with local legislation and protect consumers.
What are food allergies?
The centre for Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) defines food allergies as “ [...] medical conditions in which exposure to a food triggers a harmful immune response. The immune response, called an allergic reaction, occurs because the immune system attacks proteins in the food that are normally harmless. The proteins that trigger the reaction are called allergens.”1 This reaction can trigger anything from an itchy mouth to shortness of breath, or in the worst case, even lead to death.2 According to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, numerous studies have shown that food allergies are on the rise in Western countries.3 In some nations, up to 10% of the population has been diagnosed with a food allergy in some shape or form.4 Alarmingly, young children are increasingly affected.5
How must food allergens be labelled in the US and EU?
In the United States (US), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the regulatory body that is responsible for defining and overseeing labelling of food allergens in the industry.6 Out of the 160 foods known to trigger food allergies in consumers, the FDA requires labelling for eight foods that are said to be responsible for 90% of allergic reactions.7,8 These are: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat. Since 2006, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) states that food labels must clearly list ingredients that are or contain any of these proteins on their packaging.9 This legislation came in response to a 1999 study conducted by the FDA, which concluded that over 25% of randomly selected manufacturers did not list peanuts or eggs as ingredients, despite their presence in these foods.10 Labelling as such can take place one of in two forms:
Either manufacturers put the common name for the allergen in brackets behind the ingredient that contains the allergen (e.g. “Lecithin (soy)”)
Or they clearly name the allergen behind the word contains (e.g. “Contains soy”)
Some sources and organisations, including FARE, urge consumers who are allergic to eggs to take extra precautions when scanning labels for egg proteins, which sometimes hide behind other names.11 The Daily Meal specifically flags albumin, globulin, lecithin, livetin, lysozyme, words with "ova" and "ovo" as prefixes, silici albuminate, simplesse, and vitellin as terms to look out for.12 To avoid recalls or putting consumers at risk, at foodcircle, we urge all our customers who intend on importing foods to the US to clearly label their foods in accordance with the FDA’s guidelines.
In the European Union, on the other hand, this same list is defined by the European Commission’s (EC) Codex Commission, and includes a total of 14 food allergens—the eight that apply to the US, plus cereals containing gluten, celery, mustard, sesame seeds, lupin, and sulphur dioxide and sulphites.13 The EC’s regulations on labelling are as follows: “Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 requires the provision of allergen information on both prepacked and non-prepacked foods when allergens are intentionally incorporated in foods, namely when they are ingredients.”14 To avoid any confusion, the EC clearly defines how manufacturers must label ingredients that are or contain cereals containing gluten. Namely, “They have to be declared under a name making a clear reference to the specific type of the cereal, i.e. wheat, rye, barley, oats. [...] (e.g. "Barley malt vinegar, durum wheat").15
For more information, please read Q&A on the application of the Regulation (EU) N° 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers (FIC) and the Commission Notice from 13.07.2017.16,17
In 2016 the EC also put more responsibility in the hands of hospitality establishments by deciding that verbally informing consumers about allergens in their foods is no longer sufficient. Hence, allergen labelling must assume written form and be made readily available to consumers.18 According to MenuTech, this includes the point of presentation (e.g. chalkboard or menu), the point of sale (e.g. café counter), or the point of supply (e.g. buffet table).19
Labelling of cereals provides more transparency for European consumers than American consumers, as only the mentioning of “wheat” is obligatory in the US (versus wheat, rye, barley and oats in the EU).20 For tree nuts, on the other hand, the US’s list is more extensive than that of the EU. While the EU classifies almonds, Brazil nuts, cashew nuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pistachios, and walnuts as tree nuts, the US also defines chestnuts, coconuts, pine nuts, shea nuts, and list of lesser-known nuts, such as ginkgo nuts, in this category.21
Allergens in foodcircle products
Detailed information about allergens in our products can be found in the Certificates section on our individual product pages. This also holds true for foods that are processed or packaged in the same facilities as foods that contain common allergens, such as our organic raisins which may contain traces of nuts. Please note that some certificates may only become available to you after you place your order. If you would like to learn more about allergens in specific products before purchasing from our platform, please reach out to our Sales Team. Likewise, we are able to provide you with additional laboratory tests for specific food allergens upon request.
Imagery courtesy of RASFF and unsplash.com