Undeclared allergens represent a distinct health threat for consumers. Exposure to these compounds can produce severe allergic response or even death. The reality of an increasingly global food chain means that undeclared allergens can also pose a threat to producers and food industry professionals who stand to lose money, consumer confidence, and- in the recent case of a restaurateur in the UK– even their freedom. In that instance, the owner served curry with undeclared/substituted peanuts to an allergic customer whose death resulted in manslaughter charges against the owner.1 Indeed, several instances of adulteration with undeclared nut-based ingredients as substitutes for more expensive cumin seeds have garnered the attention of the UK food crime unit, created to investigate food fraud in the wake of the 2013 horse meat scandal.
Data suggest that the introduction of food information regulations (EU Regulation 1169/2011) in 2014 have spurred an overall improvement in food safety. These regulations require food industry professionals to employ stricter food labeling, including explicit allergen information. The European Union reports 755 food recalls and notifications during the first quarter of 2015, a 6% decrease from the previous quarter. Of note, nuts and seeds were one of few food groups to demonstrate an increase in recalls with aflatoxins (from nuts and seeds) bringing in 21% of the total recalls and notifications in the first quarter.1 This indicates that the regulations are an effective measure for minimizing the need for recalls- and also that producers should continue to focus on identifying the presence of these highly dangerous allergens (nuts and seeds).
For some industry professionals, this data highlights the importance of strict internal monitoring to prevent unintentional adulteration of food products via operational errors (mislabeling, mispackaging, cross-contamination) or as a result of internationally sourced ingredients. According to international legal experts, producers should document the methods they employ to meet regulations, particularly with regard to undeclared allergens.1 Some of these include: following reliable industry guidelines, ensuring that global supply chains are traceable, employing exercises to scan for system weaknesses, implementing safeguards like supplier audits and random sample testing, and constructing crisis management plans.
With the advent of food allergen test kits (ELISA Systems, Thermo Scientific), producers can access rapid, reliable monitoring assays for most common food allergens: nuts and seeds (peanut, almond, hazelnut, sesame, mustard), dairy (milk, casein, beta-lactoglobulin), gluten, buckwheat, egg, lupin, soy, and crustaceans.2 This allows responsible monitoring to protect the interests of the food industry as well as minimize health risks to allergic or intolerant consumers.
More information for ELISA Systems Food Allergen Test Kits can be found here.
1 Smith, N. ‘ Nut Imposters: Increased Number Of EU And US Recalls Relating To Nut Products And Undeclared Allergens, Despite Overall Reduction In EU’ Fresh: Perspectives on Environmental, Safety, and Health, 10 June 2015.
2 Thermo Scientific(2014) ‘Food Allergen Assays’ LT2152A.