The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) reports “a notable increase” in the number of recalls due to undeclared allergens in regulated products and the agency has called a public meeting to talk about it.
According to FSIS, more than 170 foods have been reported to cause allergic reactions, but most concern is around the “Big 8,” which account for 90 percent of food-related allergic reactions. The “Big 8” are also the sources from which allergenic ingredients are derived.
The “Big 8” food allergens, says FSIS, are wheat, crustacean shellfish — including shrimp, crab and lobster — eggs, fish, peanuts, milk, tree nuts — almonds, pecans and walnuts — and soybeans.
“Food allergies are increasing in reported prevalence and present a significant public health problem that affects both adults and children,” the FSIS meeting notice says. “Food allergens may be ingredients in meat, poultry and egg products and thus the presence of undeclared allergens in these products may result in adverse health outcomes for certain individuals.”
The all-day public meeting is scheduled at USDA’s Jefferson Auditorium in the South Building at 14th & Independence Ave. SW in Washington D.C., from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on March 16.
The Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, international agencies and academic institutions are expected to participate.
The meeting will specifically address the continued occurrence of product recalls due to undeclared allergens and best practices for preventing the presence of undeclared allergens in FSIS-regulated products. Topics will focus on FSIS policy and enforcement regarding undeclared allergens, labeling compliance, best practices for prevention, and emerging issues.
Industry and interested individuals, organizations, and other stakeholders are invited to participate in the meeting and comment on these topics. Under current law, FSIS-regulated establishments are required to declare all ingredients, including allergens, on their products’ labels. If FSIS finds that a product under its jurisdiction contains undeclared allergens, the agency requests the establishment to recall the product.
Under the Federal Meat Inspection Act, the Poultry Products Inspection Act, and the Egg Products Inspection Act, meat, poultry, and egg products that contain an allergen not declared on the product label are adulterated because, to individuals who are allergic to the allergen, the products bear or contain a poisonous or deleterious substance.
Furthermore, the meat, poultry, and egg products are also considered misbranded if the labeling is false and misleading. According to FSIS, the presence of undeclared allergens in product is often preventable, as it results from incorrect labeling or packaging of products, due to unexpected product and ingredient changes, cross-contamination of product during processing, and other types of procedural and human error.
In addition to holding this public meeting, FSIS has developed a compliance guideline to assist establishments in addressing the hazards posed by allergens in their products. FSIS updates this guidance as necessary as new information becomes available.
There is no fee to register for the public meeting, but pre-registration is mandatory for participants attending in-person. Onsite registration will not be permitted. Early registration is recommended as space is limited. All attendees must register online by emailing AllergenPublicMeeting@fsis.usda.gov by March 9.
FSIS will finalize an agenda on or before the meeting dates and post it on the FSIS Web page at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/meetings.
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