Is a food allergy aisle on the horizon?

May 23, 2012

All kinds of steps are being taken within food institutions to keep people safe from food allergy accidents. How can supermarkets contribute?

Last week in Rhode Island, the senate approved legislation spearheaded by a seventeen year-old girl to make dining out safer for people who live with food allergies. The legislation is modeled after a Massachusetts law passed last year, and if passed by the House, will require restaurants to have on staff a certified food allergy specialist.

In addition, this week Texas joined 14 other sates by adopting statewide guidelines for managing food allergies in schools. Last January, a seven year-old girl died from a food allergy related accident at a school in Virginia. According to the Food Allergy Institute about 16-18% of food allergy accidents in children happen at school.

The message is clear. This is a public health issue, and more efforts should continue to be made by all types of food institutions to keep people safe from food allergy accidents. The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) reports that as many as 15 million Americans have food allergies affecting four percent of adults and eight percent of children. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that food allergies are on the rise, increasing by 18% between 1997 and 2008.

In 2006, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 took effect and requires that food manufacturers clearly identify on their food labels if a food product has any ingredients that contain protein derived from any of the eight major allergenic foods and food groups: milk, eggs, fish, Crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, or soybeans.

The Lempert Report feels that supermarkets must do their part as well. As many stores already employ store dietitians, it may be just as important for a store to employ a certified food allergy specialist to meet these specific needs from managing prepared foods and in-store sample stations to offering guidance to shoppers on how to stay safe.

Stores that pay close attention to the needs of their shoppers may also find that creating sections of shelf space for allergy-free products will not only give shoppers easy access to foods they can consume, but could also help them build relationships with shoppers impressed by this action that not only shows concern for customers, but also proves that a store is educated on the modern health and wellness needs of Americans. And if food allergies continue to rise as aggressively as they have, that shelf space could grow into an aisle.