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FDA Allergen Report to Congress Analyzes Cross-Contact, Advisory Labeling

Sep 11, 2006

FDA Allergen Report to Congress Analyzes Cross-Contact, Advisory Labeling

The Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition division of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week submitted its report to Congress on allergen cross-contact and labeling issues as mandated by the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004. In the report, FDA notes that using current good manufacturing practices is the best way to reduce and eliminate cross-contact in food manufacturing, and recommends that all processing facilities should work to increase awareness of cross-contact potential and ways to avoid it.

Effective January 1, 2006, the Food Allergen Act required allergen labeling on all products containing a major food allergen, defined as: milk, eggs, crustacean shellfish, fish, wheat, tree nuts (such as almonds, pecans or walnuts), peanuts or soy.

The legislation also required FDA to prepare a wide-ranging report within 18 months of enactment to address issues relating to cross-contact with food allergens during food manufacturing and review food allergen advisory labeling. FDA finalized the report in July 2006 but just submitted it last week to both the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

FDA's report did not directly implicate one sector of the food industry as having more problems controlling cross contamination. However, the report included a summary of recall actions due to undeclared allergens during the FY 1999 - 2004 period. Recall actions for bakery products were most prevalent, occurring 30.5% of the time; ice cream product recalls were the second most frequent at 10.6%.

"This report underscores that dairy processors need to remain vigilant in preventing cross contamination of their products through comprehensive allergen-control programs," said Cary Frye, IDFA's vice president of regulatory affairs. "IDFA will continue its efforts to help members prevent cross contamination through our ongoing educational sessions and publications on allergens."

IDFA currently offers a practical guide, "Best Practices for the Management of Allergens in Dairy Plants," which provides background information on allergens and explains how to set up a facility-wide food-allergen awareness program. The guide also highlights situations to watch and demonstrates how companies have responded to reduce the possibility of cross-contact. To order, click here.

The FDA report also includes results of a survey that was designed to determine consumer preferences for voluntary advisory labeling, which is recommended under certain circumstances, but not required. Of the four advisory statements tested, "Allergy Information: May contain peanuts" was preferred by a group of food allergic consumers, their caregivers and a consumer control group. "Consumers prefer information preceded by signal words and generally view this information as more credible," the report states.

Advisory statements are most often used on chocolate and confectionary product labels. Although less than one-fifth of the surveyed facilities use advisory labeling, according to the report, a high proportion of facilities have cross-contact control measures in place. The report highlights the results of more than 2,000 allergen-focused inspections conducted by FDA from FY 2002 to FY 2004. To read the full FDA report, click here. {link to FALCPA Report to Congress.pdf}

The Food Allergen Act was first introduced in 2002 by Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY). IDFA opposed the initial bill and worked diligently to educate members of Congress about ongoing industry efforts to implement easy-to-read language about allergenic ingredients on food labels for consumers. As a result, the final bill is a bipartisan compromise that allows more flexibility and eliminated language requiring prescriptive label formatting, redundant ingredient labeling and civil monetary penalties.

To read the full report, click here.

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Posted September 11, 2006

Dairy Delivers