The other side: allergens
Because nuts are allergens, they require careful handling by processors. Although less than 3 percent of the population has a food allergy, allergic reactions to food can be deadly. Not surprisingly, concern about rising allergen-related product recalls has spawned numerous programs and government initiatives to protect those who are at risk. Many processors, for instance, have put rigorous system checks in place to minimize the risk of cross contamination during production. Many have also added more informative labeling to their packaging.
For purposes of allergen control, Dr. Steve Taylor of the University of Nebraska's Food Allergy Research & Resource Program (FAARP) points out that it's important to distinguish between peanuts, which are legumes, and tree nuts, which include walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts. While both are common allergens and reactions to either can be severe, peanut allergies tend to be more common.
The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), one of the nation's premier advocacy groups, is not only working to raise public awareness about these and other food allergens, but also advance research on behalf of those affected by food allergies. FAAN has also worked with the Food Allergy Issues Alliance (FAIA), a consortium of food companies, trade associations and consumer groups, to help industry members understand the challenges faced by allergic consumers. FAAN has even helped food companies develop more effective labeling and allergen control programs.
FAIA, meanwhile, has issued the following labeling guidelines to food companies in May 2001:
- Identify major food allergens that cause more than 90 percent of all food-allergic reactions (crustaceans, eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, soy and wheat).
- Put terms in plain English
- Disclose the presence of major food allergens when they are an intentional part of a food, regardless of the source (e.g., as part of a flavor, or incidental additive or processing aid)
- Establish guidelines for conditions when the use of supplemental allergen statements is appropriate
In 2002, The Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA) surveyed its food industry members to determine their progress in implementing the FAIA guidelines. They found that:
- 100 percent of respondents were in the process of implementing the guidelines.
- 60 percent planned to complete implementation by the end of 2002.
- An additional 25 percent planned to complete implementation by the end of 2003.
FAIA is now working on an Allergen Awareness Education Program for employees of food manufacturing facilities.
It was expected that the Senate HELP Committee will soon reintroduce legislation for food allergen labeling. Changes negotiated by GMA and other food industry groups were: