If you are allergic to any food ingredient, you probably looked at the label. But some labels may not be as reliable as they should. In fact, the allergens will not be listed on the label, called “covert or undeclared allergens” are the main cause of withdrawal of food from the market by the Food and Drug Administration.
The FDA strives to reduce the number of such removals on three fronts: investigating the causes of these errors, collaborating with industry in terms of best practices and devising new ways to detect the presence of allergens.
Federal law requires food labels controlled by the FDA sold in the United States identify major food allergens they contain. In some people, these-the allergens milk, egg, fish, shellfish, nuts, wheat, peanuts or peanut and soybean can cause life-threatening reactions. A food with a label skip mandatory allergen information is deceptively identified and may be seized by the FDA. However, companies usually remove these foods market voluntarily.
Help denounce food allergic reactions
The first step is to comprehend more about the problem. Dr. Steven Gendel, PhD, coordinator of food allergens FDA emphasizes that consumers can help denouncing allergic reactions to foods to the consumer complaint coordinatorFDA his district. “We serve each of the complaints to determine the appropriate course of action,” he says.
“What we’re trying to find,” explains Dr. Gendel, “is what foods are the most affected, which allergens are the most encountered and how they might have succeeded in labeling errors. These answers will help us reduce the number of withdrawals by undercover allergens “.
Food recalls and allergens involved
In search of these answers, Dr. Gendel has inspected data on the withdrawal from the market by the FDA collected and finding some clear trends.
For example, between September 2009 and September 2012, approximately one third of the foods reported to the FDA as serious health risks involved undercover allergens. The five types of foods most often implicated in retirement due to food allergens were baked goods, snacks and sweets, sweets, dairy products, and dressings (such as salad dressings and sauces ).
The allergens most frequently involved in food recalls were milk market, wheat and soybeans. Consumers can find products which have been recently recalled in the electronic portals FDA and Research and Education on Food Allergies ( FARE, for its acronym in English) and asking firms that develop .
Within the category of candy, there were many allegations of covert dairy products containing dark chocolate.For example, covert dairy led to the withdrawal of several treats in chocolate covered bar whose labels say “no dairy” or “vegan”. “This represents a significant risk to consumers who are allergic to milk,” warns Dr. Gendel.
The root of the problem
The data on the withdrawal of food from the market indicate that such labeling errors are due mostly to the use of the wrong label. This can happen at the time similar products made with different ingredients alérgenos- among them, are sold with similar packaging.
Dr. Gendel also found errors relating to the use of new technologies such as computerization and the ability to print the label directly on the packaging. This can save costs, but also create new opportunities for error.
The data suggest that the removal of food allergens can be reduced by raising awareness of the market over the industry, and performing simple changes in the way the packaging, labels and ingredients are handled and monitored in production facilities.
To encourage improvements, the FDA shares its findings with industry conferences and cooperates with the Alliance in Favor of Preventive Controls for Food Safety (FSPCA, for its acronym in English). FSPCA’s mission is to expand the safe production of food creating training programs and outreach in support of preventive controls described in the Act Modernization of Food Safety (FSMA, for its acronym in English) from the FDA.
The FDA explores new ways to detect allergens
Of course, keep food free from banned allergens requires the use of good methods for detecting them.
The most common test used worldwide is the essay by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA, for its acronym in English), which uses antibodies (parts of the immune system that help neutralize viruses and bacteria) and spectroscopic detection to find allergens.
Dr. Mark Ross, PhD, chemist FDA says that the ELISA test is the standard test because it is easy to use, relatively inexpensive and scientists have been improving it over time. But the ELISA, like similar tests used in medicine, can have false positive results, so backup methods are needed. In addition, some allergens are so similar that scientists need other than the ELISA test to differentiate. Dr. Ross is collaborating with other researchers from the FDA to design analysis methods allergens founded on mass spectrometry, a technology that determines content more efficientely allergenic proteins of the complex mixture of proteins, fats, sugars and chemicals that make up a food.
“If someone wants to analyze a food seeking an allergen, peanut, with mass spectrometry can detect and distinguish between 11 different peanut allergen proteins” he explains.
The FDA researchers are also designing methods of DNA analysis, in particular to detect allergens in fish and seafood.
This article is available on the website of Consumer Goods FDA , in which the latest on all FDA-regulated products are published.