A shocking number of individuals suffer from food allergies, ranging from mild to life-threatening. An estimated 15 million Americans have food allergies, and that number is not disappearing anytime soon. Some individuals have an allergy so extreme that simply touching the food or being in the same space where the food allergen is can cause a reaction. Some reactions are so severe, sufferers go into anaphylactic shock. Consumers need to protect themselves at all costs, but it’s also up to the food industry, including restaurants and convenience stores, to make sure customers are protected.
Eliminating food allergens entirely is out of the question; it would completely alienate large groups of people who can safely eat those foods. To protect the allergic consumer, United States laws and regulations have mandated full disclosure of potential food allergens on food labels. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also has allergen regulations in place that the food industry needs to follow.
While it may be one thing to make sure food allergens are not present in a recipe, it is another task entirely to ensure there is no cross-contamination with safe ingredients and food allergens. That means equipment needs to be thoroughly cleaned between each use, oil needs to be changed in the fryer, and some foods may need to be cooked/baked in an entirely different kitchen.
- Individuals that are gluten-free due to Celiac disease may be so sensitive to gluten that if kitchens are baking regular baked goods and gluten-free baked goods, the particles in the air may be enough to cause symptoms even if the individual consumes only the gluten-free baked goods.
- Those that are allergic to fish and order French fries from the menu may need to request that their French fries are not fried in the same oil the fish is fried in.
Each food allergy is different and should be treated so with proper precautions. Food handlers and servers must be vigilant about avoiding cross-contamination, and they need to be upfront about their handling processes to consumers. For instance, some restaurants may not be able to accommodate a wide array of food allergies. That is okay, but they need to inform the allergic consumer so the consumer can safely order something else from the menu.
While it is up to the consumer to be vigilant about reading food labels, food producers can make their job a bit easier with easy-to-read labels, like those provided by the Date Code Genie®. The software is centrally managed with cloud-based software, a thermal printer, and multimedia gallery. Printed food labels are easily customized on the full-color touchscreen. All potential food allergens are easily added to the labels and placed on food items, whether that is a food prep container or a pre-made food item being sold at a convenience store. Nutritional information can be synced with other systems to pull in data, making it so that nutritional information does not need to be typed in separately.