In an effort to reduce adverse reactions to food allergens, along with potential recalls, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has released a 26-page set of guidelines to assist meat, poultry, and processed egg product producers in properly managing ingredients which could trigger such problems.
“Our mission as a public health agency is to protect America’s most vulnerable populations, including children, from harm, and these new guidelines do just that,” said USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Al Almanza. “Beyond keeping our families safe, these guidelines also provide a useful tool to help food companies avoid preventable, costly recalls.”
Food allergens are a public health issue impacting millions of Americans. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 2 percent of adults and 4 to 8 percent of children in the United States have food allergies. Food allergens can cause serious symptoms and can result in anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening reaction.
The new FSIS guidelines, entitled, “FSIS Compliance Guidelines Allergens and Ingredients of Public Health Concern: Identification, Prevention and Control, and Declaration through Labeling,” include a section listing the “Big Eight” categories of food allergens and some specific food items in each category which may cause problems for those with food allergies or sensitivities.
The “Big Eight” are wheat, crustacean shellfish, eggs, fish, peanuts, milk, tree nuts and soybeans. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, these “Big Eight” allergens account for approximately 90 percent of all food allergy reactions in the U.S., FSIS stated.
Recalls of FSIS-regulated products due to undeclared allergens have been increasing in recent years. These problems often are caught by inspectors during labeling checks and are the result of changes to ingredient suppliers, products being placed in the wrong package, or changes to product or ingredient formulations, the agency stated.
The newly released guidelines note that the number of recalls of FSIS-regulated products attributed to undeclared allergens and ingredients of public health concern increased from seven in 2008 to 29 in 2012. The proportion of recalls attributed to undeclared allergens and ingredients of public health concern also increased during that period, from 13 percent in 2008 to 35 percent in 2012.
By following these new guidelines, FSIS stated that establishments are more likely to ensure that product labels declare all ingredients, as required by law, and that products do not contain undeclared allergens or other undeclared ingredients. The guidance covers prevention and control measures of potentially allergic ingredients, packaging, labeling, storage, checklists, and allergen training, among others.
In April 2015, FSIS inspectors met with management at every FSIS-regulated establishment in the country to discuss whether that establishment produces items containing allergens, and, if so, whether the establishment had a process in place to ensure proper labeling.
Department inspectors then increased the number of allergen labeling-related inspection checks they conduct in those establishments in order to make sure that products are properly labeled. The goal is to make plants more conscious of properly labeling their products and prevent additional recalls this year, the department stated.
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