Currently, foods on supermarket shelves are required by the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) to disclose, in plain English, any of the eight major allergens contained in the product.
Currently, foods on supermarket shelves are required by the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) to disclose, in plain English, any of the eight major allergens contained in the product. The law ensures that individuals can easily and accurately identify food ingredients that may cause allergic reactions. Companies found violating FALCPA labeling are subject to the civil and criminal penalty provisions of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and products are subject to recall.
So with this law in place it seems that those with food allergies are able to enjoy products off the shelves as easily as those who don’t have food allergies, just by reading labels…right? Not necessarily; many foods that boast allergen free claims also say, ‘may contain…’ or, ‘made in a facility that also produces products containing …’ What are the allergy inflicted to do?
SupermarketGuru.com sees the allergen labeling discrepancy as an opportunity for manufacturers who truly value their customers, to take this issue into their own hands, lead by example, and ensure that ‘allergen free’ foods are actually allergen free. Sainsbury’s, a UK supermarket chain recently argued that ‘may contain’ labeling should be replaced by ‘not suitable for’ labels. John Figgins, Sainsbury’s chemistry manager expressed concerns about, “warnings… [on food labels] that seem to require consumers to conduct their own risk assessment... By using the phrase ‘not suitable for’, [customers are provided] a clear message… that the product is not suitable for allergy sufferers." Figgins goes on to say, and SupermarketGuru.com couldn’t agree more that, "indiscriminate alibi labeling undermines, devalues and erodes trust in the message."
It is however necessary to acknowledge that it’s not always possible to completely eliminate the risk of cross-contamination, and sometimes ‘may contain’ statements are necessary. Blanket labeling across product lines, to protect CPGs from penalties -or so it seems- are causing unnecessary concern, confusion and are deterring customers rather than nurturing the vital relationship.
For more information on food allergies and proper labeling, visit the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network.