Yesterday's article in the Chicago-Tribune reminded me that lack of standards for labeling foods as "gluten-free" or "allergen-free" is one of my pet peeves. Back in mid-August, I wrote a post about it, which I am republishing below. The problem goes beyond recalls that we never hear about, it's also that we have no standards for labeling a product as gluten-free or dairy-free or peanut-free. "Allergen-free" can mean different things to different people, and companies profit off of the lack of definitions and allergic consumers eager to find "free from" products. As food allergic consumers, we should be jumping up and down, demanding that some standard definitions be set, so that not every Tom, Dick, and Harry can claim to have a gluten-free product. The Chicago-Tribune article should serve as a wake-up call to us.
Is It Time for Standardized Definitions for Allergen-Free Food Claims?
With all the hullaballoo about the expected growth of the specialty food industry for food allergies and intolerances, how many companies are jumping on the bandwagon, proclaiming that their product is “gluten-free” or “nut-free”? Some of the products never contained gluten in the first place! And does the fact that a product does not contain peanuts as an ingredient qualify it as “peanut-free”? Does the entire manufacturing facility need to be dedicated “peanut-free”? Is a dedicated line good enough to be declared “dairy-free”? Can a manufacturer switch to making "nut-free" or "gluten-free" products and use the same equipment as before? Is a sanitization protocol adequate to claim a “free-from” product? What about sanitization combined with allergen testing of the food products? And what about the suppliers of the ingredients? Do they need to be “dairy-free” or “soy-free” in order for the finished product to be declared as such?
What does it mean when a product label bears an allergen-free claim? Do you telephone or email manufacturers for clarification? Does the fact that a food is labeled as allergen-free influence your shopping decisions?
Maybe it is time for the FDA to set standards defining “gluten-free”, “peanut-free” and other allergen-free claims on product packaging and labels. What do you think?