Dropping the soft claims for certified free from allergens
Research by FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) and Northwestern University has shown that food allergies impact more than 85 million people in the US. Over 32 million of these have a food allergy to one of the major nine allergens (peanut, tree nut, fish, shellfish, milk, egg, wheat, soy, sesame).
In May of 2023, the draft of the compliance policy guide for food allergen labelling and prevention of cross-contact released by the US Federal and Drug Administration (FDA) was released. It is apparent that improving allergen food safety in the US is a strong focus. Both food allergen labelling, and cross-contact prevention are at the forefront for apparent reasons. This FDA draft guidance, when finalised, will be implemented alongside its enforcement policy regarding allergens.
Time is of the essence to improve allergen food safety for consumers. It comes down to saving the lives of food-allergic people worldwide, as the number of sufferers is rising yearly. The consequences of an allergic reaction can be severe, including anaphylactic shock or even death.
Consumers must be able to rely upon and trust allergen claims, not second guess or wonder whether a product that says “may contain” or makes soft claims like “nut-free” are safe to consume. Shoppers and big box stores that sell consumer packaged goods (CPGs), like Walmart and Costco, want visible and accurate labelling.
This space is where Colorado-based nutrition and allergen food safety service provider MenuTrinfo sailed into uncharted waters and developed an allergen “free from” certification for food manufacturers and food service facilities. Certified Free From (CFF) is the only accredited certification of its kind and is navigating with purpose and precision.
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) National Accreditation Board (ANAB) has accredited the Certified Free From scheme and standards for meeting the rigorous International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 17065 standards for certifying bodies. MenuTrinfo’s program meets the highest requirements for accuracy and reliability through annual ANAB audits.
Certified Free From was launched in 2016 to substantiate allergen-free claims with more integrity through third-party verification and validation at kitchens and manufacturing facilities. The food allergy world at the time was in flux, and there was a pressing need for more due diligence for allergen food safety.
“We could not wait any longer for governmental bodies to put more requirements and emphasis on allergen claims such as ‘free from’ and continue to sit on the sidelines and see even more disclaimers such as ‘may contain traces of,’” CEO and founder of MenuTrinfo, Betsy Craig said. “We had to take action and step up to the plate with Certified Free From.”
CFF addresses two crucial points of emphasis:
- Applying increased focus and accountability on allergen management programs.
- Validating current allergen soft claims, eliminating them, and replacing them with a CFF seal for any to all nine of the major allergens in the US.
The CFF seal, much like other respected certifications on food packaging like organic or the non-GMO Project, is recognisable and easily understood.
What does this cutting-edge allergen food safety certification mean for brands and consumers?
Absolute transparency, confidence, and trust that the product is what it says it is.
In a standard GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) food safety audit, all components of a food safety program are audited – from pest control to manufacturing to shipping out of the back dock. Allergen management is a small section of the audit. However, CFF focuses exclusively on allergen management programs with more comprehensive standards.
CFF allergen control standards were developed by industry experts throughout the US using current GFSI requirements as a foundation, and adding details not seen before.
As a certification programme, MenuTrinfo’s Certified Free From is a valuable resource for food service kitchens, university dining halls and food manufacturers. It approaches allergen management and control processes in an organised, systematic, and detailed manner.
CFF focuses on finished goods manufacturers who want to offer allergen-free products. This can range from children’s nutritional supplements to baked goods to shelf-stable food items, all which display clear and valid seals to satisfy consumers.
Certified Free From is a world-class allergen food safety program that encompasses four major sections:
- Supplier and ingredient approval.
- Operations (includes, but not limited to training, material handling, manufacturing, and sanitation).
- Food contact surface allergen testing.
- CFF seal approval for labels and marketing.
A current Client Relations Specialist on MenuTrinfo’s staff has a daughter with severe allergies to three different tree nuts and knows that exposure could be fatal.
“In over 30 years leading food safety teams in food manufacturing plants, I always wondered when allergens would be taken more seriously,” the employee said. “Now that CFF is here and accountability exists at the manufacturing level, it leads to validated packaging seals for the consumer. Soft claims are simply not good enough for my daughter.”
Numerous allergy-conscious groups around the globe exist and are asking the same question day in and day out: “Is it safe?” With Certified Free From, that question is answered emphatically and responsibly.