Blog: Allergy-free not as easy as it sounds

Catherine Sleep | 30 March 2006

You have read our editorial comment calling for more scrupulous cleaning down of machinery to aid allergy sufferers who find so many products off limits to them which should not have been near a nut in the first place. Some interesting feedback came in from a just-food member who is in a good position to discuss the processes involved, so I wanted to share it with you. He works at a large food manufacturer.

I would like to comment on your Editorial Comment re allergy free food manufacturing. I am afraid your attitude is simply wrong. No matter how much equipment is cleaned, often a food manufacturer cannot guarantee the absence of any particular previous ingredient.

Danone for example will not accept ingredients processed on the same line as products containing allergens (other than milk). This is a little bit frightening for ingredient suppliers as the implications are pretty wide reaching if the Danone position becomes the dominant view. Ingredient suppliers will need a separate line for each allergen and every different combination of allergens they use in their products.

Even for a small player like a contractor we use, this would mean ten different dedicated lines for Dairy, Egg, Soy, Gluten and the two-way combinations, not to mention extra lines for any three-way combinations!

This is ridiculous and the fears that drive it all are mostly driven by media beat-ups. Recent research shows that most people who think they are allergic to any particular food are in fact not allergic at all. Even if they are, most food allergy symptoms are very mild and don't justify the mandatory labelling and fear of litigation that is driving the "may contain..." statements. After all, the real risk is negligible and blown out of all proportion. In the US an estimated 5000 people die each year from Food Poisoning (64% of these from unknown pathogens!) and less than 200 in total from all Anaphylactic shock, of which only a very small proportion would be from Food Allergins. I've never seen anyone feel they have to label their product "may contain traces of salmonella"!


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