Education important in recognizing food allergens

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Imagine finding fish in your strawberry yogurt—ignore the ingredient listing on the label, and you just might miss it.

 
MANHATTAN, Kan. – Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a consumer update (http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm416577.htm?source=govdelivery&utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery) outlining the hazards of undeclared food allergens in certain food products. Fadi Aramouni, extension specialist and professor of food science at Kansas State University, is an expert in food processing and food product development. He said consumers should be aware of the FDA update, as food ingredient label education is important.

 

“Undeclared food allergens are due to mistakes by food companies, where certain products have been added,” Aramouni said. “Some of the main allergens that have been added to the food product have not actually been declared on the label.”

 

Consumer education

 

Aramouni said it’s important for consumers to be aware of these allergens, particularly those who have known food allergies. Ingredients most often involved in cases of undeclared food allergens are milk, wheat and soy. The products most affected, according to FDA studies, are baked goods, snacks, candies, salad dressings and sauces.

 

“We have about 30,000 people annually who end up in an emergency room due to severe food allergies,” he said. “That’s a big number, and consumers should be concerned. They should educate themselves and know there are certain ingredients that may contain allergens that they’re unaware of.”

 

Some products have allergens that people may not expect, Aramouni warned. Reading labels is important.

 

“If I say soy sauce, the first thing that comes to a consumer’s mind is probably soy, yet you have examples of soy sauce where the main ingredient is wheat,” he said. “It’s used together in the fermentation to produce soy sauce.”

 

“I’ve seen labels on strawberry yogurt that say, ‘contains fish,’” he continued.
“Gelatin is used as a stabilizer in the yogurt to make it firm, and gelatin is extracted from fish. That’s an unusual case; a lot of times it’s probably extracted from beef or pork, so people have to realize if they have certain allergies to gelatin.”

 

Many barbeque sauces include Worcestershire, which traditionally contains anchovies, a type of fish, Aramouni said.

 

“We’ve seen a few people getting allergic reactions from barbeque sauce,”
he said. “They never expected to find fish in the barbeque sauce. Some companies have started manufacturing Worcestershire sauce without anchovies to avoid having that label of, ‘contains fish.’”

 

The FDA has also reported the absence of milk in ingredient listings on dark chocolate labels, Aramouni said.

 

Educating food companies

 

Each year, K-State’s food science students develop between at least 300 and 400 labels for Kansas food companies, Aramouni said, and allergen declaration is one of his and his students’ target issues.

 

“All of our Kansas companies send their food labels over here,” he said. “They send their ingredient list and their products, and we develop their ingredient listing for them and the label.”

 

Aramouni said K-State’s system automatically attempts to check for any undeclared allergens. Then a nutrition facts panel and an ingredient legend listing any potential allergens are developed.

 

Aramouni and his students also train food companies in performing label compliance with Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP). K-State offers two classes in HACCP training for these food companies, where they develop a label compliance program.

 

“This way, they make sure that every label is checked when there is a change in product formulation,” Aramouni said. “That’s especially important for companies that have a long line of food products, and they may not pay attention when another formulation has been used or when they have moved to another product.”

 

Each time a product on the line is changed, it must be double-checked for accurate label usage on the product being manufactured, Aramouni said.

 

“Companies must also check the ingredient listing to find out if they have used the same ingredients that they have always used,” he said. “Sometimes there may be a change in formulation that does not translate as a change on the label.”

 

More information on food allergens can be found on the FDA website (http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm416577.htm?source=govdelivery&utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery). For more information on food safety, visit http://www.ksre.ksu.edu/foodsafety/ or contact your local extension office.

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