The February report from Eat, Learn, Live (ELL) focuses on the extensive advancements of the ELL Manufacturer Allergen Ingredient Labeling (MAIL) Database and the expanded services available to ELL registrants.
Since the launch of the Database, the response has been overwhelming. It is clear that we, as a consumer community, are in serious need of more consistent, accurate and better defined guidelines for ingredient labels. Whereas the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 was a start in offering clarity in the terminologies used to describe the top 8 allergen ingredients, it has also created enormous confusion with its exclusion of provisions relative to “advisory” labeling. Furthermore, given that there is little to no enforcement of the existing federal policy guidelines, consumers continue to be at risk by mislabeled manufactured foods.
As many of you may be aware, a recent issue of the Chicago Tribune detailed the ongoing risk that today’s food labeling practices pose to allergic children (CLICK ON LINK BELOW) http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/lifestyle/health/chi-081120-allergens-tribune-investigation,0,506031.story. The article cited several examples of food manufacturers, including Whole Foods, having multiple labeling errors on the products in which they sell. We are all thrilled that the press has given recent attention to this important issue. ELL has also received numerous reports from consumers regarding mislabeling incidents by companies including Whole Foods and it has urged all potentially negligent companies to revisit their labeling practices.
Throughout the past several months, it has become more obvious that the consumer community is in desperate need of additional information regarding potential cross-contamination in processing of foods. The FDA has begun the process of evaluating future policy that requires consistent and accurate advisory labeling for allergen ingredients. This includes information regarding the use of advisory terminologies for potential cross contamination including “designated equipment”, “shared equipment”, “made in the same facility” and “may contain” statements for the top 8 allergens to describe the actual manufacturing environment and processing practices. Currently, all of the existing terms are used randomly on food labels today and on a strictly voluntary basis.
ELL recognizes the importance of providing this type of warning information and its value in influencing safer consumer purchase decisions. Therefore, as an expanded service offered by ELL beginning in February 15th, 2009, the organization will gather and post information on a monthly basis that profiles products and manufacturers not currently providing advisory warning statements and the detail describing its manufacturing processes involving allergen ingredients. This will allow consumers to recognize those manufacturers displaying accurate information on its packaging regarding its processing and potential exposure to the top 8 food allergens and those manufacturers that do not accurately list this information.
To gather this information, ELL will interview ~20-30 manufacturers across 12 food categories on a monthly basis. Specifically, products categorized into the following food groups will be profiled; Dairy Alternatives, Breakfast/Cereals, Breads/Crackers, Baking/Desserts, Snacks, Meat/Meatless Alternatives, Baby Food, Beverages, Entrees, Dressings/Sauces, Side Dishes, Wine/Champagnes.
When uncovered through our efforts, we will also profile those manufacturers taking leading edge steps in their manufacturing practices to ensure safety and to control any risk of contamination with allergenic ingredients. ELL will offer special attention to “Gold Standard” companies as they are uncovered; those executing unprecedented steps and following the highest level of safety standards.
In addition to this expanded information, ELL will also continue to collect and post all incident reports from consumers regarding mislabeled allergen ingredient food products. Each important report submitted is shared with the respective manufacturer along with a request for a response. Visit www.ellfoundation.org to provide feedback, to register as a recipient of this information or to submit an incident report under the Labeling Complaints section of the website.
In summary, beginning February 15th, 2009, ELL will provide the following information to its registrants:
· Reports that describe the manufacturing environment and the potential for cross contamination with allergenic ingredients (i.e. made in a facility with specific allergens, made on equipment with specific allergens, may contain, etc.) for products classified within one of 12 major food categories
·Organizations executing exemplar good manufacturing procedures and profiles of “Gold Standard”companies
·Incident reports of manufactured food products with mislabeled main ingredients
We sincerely hope that Eat, Live, Learn, (ELL) will continue to be leveraged as a valuable resource in the effort to better protect allergic children! Please look for the update on the ELL Consultant Network to be released on February 6th, 2009.