by Betsy Craig, CEO of MenuTrinfo

Minimizing the impact on supply chain for manufactures is maximizing the concern for 32 million people.

Due to COVID-19, the FDA made a bold move without consideration of a huge part of the population.  They are allowing manufactures to re-formulate their recipes on food without the “burden of re-labeling the ingredients statements” to some degree.  This could be devastating to those who rely on accurate labels when shopping. 

We believe this is so detrimental that we have built our business around this. Through the AllerTrain™ suite of courses we teach front of house and back of house workers throughout the country to check labels. Through Kitchens with Confidence™ we audit products, kitchens and warehouses across the country to ensure labeling is accurate. With our “Certified Free From™” a specific allergen or multiple allergens audits we are able to help companies provide peace of mind and assurance to consumers. Everything is double checked, down to the smallest particle in ingredient statements.

For more than a decade we have lived our mission to protect lives and health through nutrition and food safety. We have led the country and taken great strides on all fronts when it comes to managing food allergies.  There are millions of people out there with (32+ million in fact) who manage their lives and food taking into account that they have a food allergy.  Millions are not just allergic to one of the top 8 allergens and rely heavily on product labels.

“Should Avoid” Statement

In a number of places within the new policy the FDA states, “as long as there are no safety or allergen concerns introduced.” This language has not quieted the concern among the food allergic community.  The language used in an additional section of the policy shines a light on an area of concern. Below is taken directly from the FDA. I have bolded the part I think is crucial. 

“In addition to the eight major food allergens defined at section 201(qq) of the FD&C Act, several other foods (such as sesame, celery, lupin, buckwheat, molluscan shellfish, and mustard) are recognized as priority allergens in other parts of the world, including Canada, European countries, and Japan. There are also other ingredients (such as glutamates and sulfites) that can cause adverse reactions. Manufacturers should avoid substitutions that could result in a safety concern without making a conforming label change or providing other means to inform consumers of the change.”

The words, “should avoid” are not a mandate or directive.  They leave an opening and we are at the mercy of the manufacturer.  This leaves us as consumers vulnerable and we have to hope the manufacturers do truly avoid substitutions but there is no guarantee. We are glad to see there has been a tremendous number of manufacturers who have been forthcoming stating they will not alter their recipes and ingredients.  The concern is that this is now a possibility and the lack of a mandate can cause serious harm and that alone is scary.  

Language Regarding Spices

Another area of concern is with the language regarding spices. The FDA states, “undeclared substitutions of different spices or changes to the proportion of spices would generally not be a concern if there are no allergens or other spices added that are known to cause sensitivity, such as sesame or mustard.” 

People suffering with food allergies have been found to be allergic to up to 170 different food items. This means that not everyone fits into a simple “Top 8” or Top 14” list. Because not everyone is affected by these top allergens, statements with true ingredients can mean the difference between life and death.

Fats & Oils

Finally, in the FDA policy change it addresses a simple thing like oils. The language is as follows:

FDA does not intend to object to temporary substitutions without a label change of different fats or oils when the fats or oils are not prominent ingredients, the oils are highly refined, the substitutions do not pose an allergenic risk, the replacement fats or oils are from the same category of vegetable, animal, or marine oils, and the oils have a similar fatty acid profile to minimize the impact on the nutritional profile. For example, substitution of canola oil for sunflower oil may be appropriate without a label change (both are vegetable sourced and have similar fatty acid profiles), but the substitution without a label change of beef tallow for sunflower oil would be outside the scope of this policy because the oils are from different categories (one is animal sourced and the other is vegetable sourced) and have different fatty acid profiles.”

We have stated our deep concern to the FDA about these changes.  We have also shared this concern with our partners to ask that any changes made to their products be done so with full transparency. Many are letting distributers and manufactures know that changes without notice will result in product being removed from campuses, chain restaurants and buying groups.  It is coming down to the power of the purse and threats to walk away when there is no assurance of transparency and safety.  

You can read the entire policy here.