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Module 3. The Food Supply and Food Allergens

Learning Objectives

After the module, students will be able to:

  1. Identify common challenges in food manufacturing operations related to food allergies
  2. Identify different forms and names of common food allergens
  3. Explain strategies to reduce/eliminate food allergy risks in terms of food handling within the manufacturing process
  4. Explain ways to communicate with suppliers and manufacturers

Module Content

Statistics and Background Information

Undeclared allergens and other allergen concerns are the leading cause of food recalls in recent years in the U.S. ("Undeclared allergens top reason," 2013).

Thus far, undeclared allergens have been the single largest cause of food recalls in 2014. In the first quarter, 44% of food recalls were due to undeclared allergens. These recalls were the result of contamination during processing or mislabeling (Stericycle Expert Solutions, 2014).

The major reasons for recalls were (Vierk, Falci, Wolyniak, & Klontz, 2002):

  • Ingredient label inaccuracy (51% of all recalled products)
  • Undeclared cross-contact with allergens via equipment (40% of all recalled products)
  • Errors by suppliers or manufacturers of equipment (5% of all recalled products)

Cross-contamination with high-dosage exposure is more common in restaurants as opposed to manufacturer cross-contamination.


Challenges and issues in food allergen control

Avenues for cross-contact along the food supplychain(Taylor & Baumert, 2010):

  • Shared farm fields, harvesting equipment, and storage facilities
  • Shared off-farm storage facilities (e.g., grain elevators)
  • Shared vehicles for the transfer of agricultural products to processors
  • Shared processing facilities and equipment within facilities
  • Shared food preparation facilities, equipment, and cookware
  • Other modes: mites and parasites

Specific challenges to manufacturing (Wood, 2002):

  • Identifying and declaring any or all of the eight major allergens in products as well as those exposed to cross-contact.
  • Minimizing liability by labeling possible cross-contacts while avoiding "blanket statements" (i.e., 'may contain' statements) that appear as substitutes for good manufacturing practices (GMPs).
  • Addressing food safety related to food allergies while maintaining production costs.

Issues related to food labels:

  • Changes in ingredients over time (Kids With Food Allergies Foundation, 2012a).
  • Some foods/ingredients are exempt from the Food Allergen Labeling And Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) of 2004.
    • The FALCPA requires that a food label containing an ingredient or protein from a "major food allergen" must declare the presence of the allergen in accordance with the law.
    • The FALCPA does not encompass fruits or vegetables in their natural state, highly refined oils (which may be derived from a major allergen), any ingredient derived from highly refined oils, and USDA regulated foods (i.e., meat, poultry, egg, etc.) (Kids With Food Allergies Foundation, 2012b).
    • The FDA does not regulate packaged foods, vitamins, dietary supplements, infant formula and infant foods, and medical foods (such as phenylketonuria (PKU) products, tube feeding formulas, etc.) (Kids With Food Allergies Foundation, 2012b).
    • Locally made foods may be exempt from FALCPA, read ingredients and ask the manufacturer (Kids With Food Allergies Foundation, 2012b).
    • The FALCPA does not require advisory statements about possible cross-contamination, such as "may contain…" statements (Kids With Food Allergies Foundation, 2012b).
    • There are inconsistencies in terminology. For example, "Non-dairy" does not mean "dairy-free" (Kids With Food Allergies Foundation, 2012b).


Strategies to reduce/eliminate food allergy risks


  • Use specific product-sorting practices (Taylor & Baumert, 2010).
  • Use separate and designated storage facilities for grains and oilseeds, especially wheat and soybeans (Taylor & Baumert, 2010).


  • Follow good manufacturing practices (GMPs) (Higgins, 2000).
  • Establish a comprehensive sanitation program (Higgins, 2000).
  • Use dedicated facilities, processing lines, and equipment for each major commodity, and practice effective sanitation if facilities and equipment cannot be dedicated to one commodity (Taylor & Baumert, 2010).
  • Use scheduling practices that reduce the risk of cross-contamination (Taylor & Baumert, 2010).
  • Use advisory labeling when allergen control measures are not adequate to provide consistent allergen safety (Taylor & Baumert, 2010).
    • Statements such as "the product was made on equipment that came in contact with an allergen" are preferable to a blanket "may contain…" statement (Higgins, 2000). The more specific the information given on food labels, the better (Higgins, 2000).
  • Obtain complete ingredient information about raw materials, including cross-contact possibilities (Taylor & Baumert, 2010).
  • Implement an allergen auditing program of suppliers to best evaluate the allergen content in ingredients they supply (Taylor & Baumert, 2010).
  • Train employees to be conscientious about recognizing when unwanted cross-contact, mislabeling, or other problems occur (Higgins, 2000).


Forms and names of the major allergens

There are many food allergies in the U.S. The most prevalent are The Big 8: eggs, milk, shellfish, wheat, peanuts, fish, soy, and tree nuts (USDA, 2012).

90% of food allergies are caused by eggs, milk, shellfish, wheat, peanuts, fish, soy and tree nuts (walnuts, cashews, almonds, pecans, pistachios, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, etc.) (Sicherer, 2010)


Additional information

Food Allergy Research and Education (2014). How to read a label information sheet. Retrieved from http://www.foodallergy.org/document.doc?id=133

Table 3-1. Common sources of allergens

Food AllergensSources
  • Deli meats and hot dogs
  • Non-dairy creamers
  • Sorbets
  • Canned tuna
  • Chocolate
  • Salad dressings
  • Mayonnaise
  • Nougat
  • Artificial butter flavor
  • Baked goods
  • Caramel candies
  • Lactic acid or other bacterial cultures
  • Margarine
  • Nisin, a food additive derived from milk
  • Non-dairy creamer
  • Salad dressings
  • Mayonnaise
  • Pastas
  • Marshmallows, nougat and marzipan
  • Baked goods
  • Egg substitutes
  • Lecithin
  • Macaroni
  • Sauces used in ethnic foods (e.g., mole [Mexican] or Thai sauces
  • Candies and chocolates
  • Breads and baked goods
  • Desserts
  • Chili
  • Egg rolls
  • Enchilada sauce
  • Marzipan nougat
Tree nuts:
  • Cereals
  • Mortadella, Italian sausage
  • Pesto
  • Natural nut extract
  • Nut oils
  • Walnut hull extract
  • Desserts
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Imitation crab meat
  • Caesar salad dressings
  • Fish stocks
  • Seafood flavorings
  • Surimi, imitation crab meat
  • Bouillabaisse
  • Cuttlefish ink
  • Glucosamine
  • Tuna
  • Deli meats and hot dogs
  • Vegetable broth
  • Textured vegetable protein
  • Cereals
  • Vegetable gum
  • Asian cuisine (due to soy sauce)
  • Vegetable starch
  • Sauces
  • Many vegetarian products
  • Ice cream
  • Bouillon cubes
  • Deli meats
  • French fries
  • Spelt
  • Glucose syrup
  • Starch
  • Soy sauce
  • Couscous



Abbot, J. M., Byrd-Bredbenner, C., & Grasso, D. (2007). "Know before you serve" Developing a food-allergy fact sheet. Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly, 48, 274-283.

Bock, S. A., Muñoz-Furlong, A., & Sampson, H. A. (2007). Further fatalities caused by anaphylactic reactions to food, 2001-2006. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 119, 1016-1018.

Dahl, D. (2006, Jul 04). Restaurant industry may face a spate of food allergy suits. St.Louis Daily Record / St.Louis Countian. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.er.lib.k-state.edu/docview/342515863?accountid=11789

Higgins, K. T. (2000). A practical approach to allergen control. Food Engineering, 72(6), 74-82.

Kids With Food Allergies Foundation [a]. (2012). Careful label reading for food allergens. Retrieved from http://www.kidswithfoodallergies.org/resourcespre.php?id=8&title=Careful_label_reading_for_food_allergens

Kids With Food Allergies Foundation [b]. (2012). FAQ about the Food Allergen Labeling Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA). Retrieved from http://www.kidswithfoodallergies.org/resourcespre.php?id=50&title=FALCPA

Kids With Food Allergies Foundation [c]. (2012). Tree nut allergy avoidance list. Retrieved from http://www.kidswithfoodallergies.org/resourcespre.php?id=60&title=Tree_nut_allergy_avoidance_list

Kronenberg, S. A. (2012). Food allergy risk management: More customers, less liability. Journal of Foodservice Business Research, 15(1), 117-121.

Stericycle Expert Solutions. (2014). Stericycle Recall Index Q1 2014. Retrieved from http://recall.stericycleexpertsolutions.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2014/05/Recall-Index_US_Q1_2014_v1.pdf

Taylor, S. L., & Baumert, J. L. (2010). Cross-contamination of foods and implications for food allergic patients. Current Allergy and Asthma Reports, 10, 265-270.

The Culinary Institute of America. (2008). Food allergies: Challenges & opportunities for food service. Retrieved from http://www.ciaprochef.com/foodallergies/index.html

Undeclared allergens top reason for second-quarter recalls. (2013, August 21). Food Safety News. Retrieved from http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2013/08/undeclared-allergens-top-reason-for-second-quarter-recalls/#.U-vAOPldV8F

United States Food and Drug Administration. (2009). Ingredient lists. Retrieved from: http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm064880.htm#label

Vierk, K., Falci, K., Wolyniak, C., & Klontz, K. C. (2002). Recalls of foods containing undeclared allergens reported to the US Food and Drug Administration, fiscal year 1999. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 109, 1022-1026.

Wachs, R. A., McGrady, J., & Inserro, A. (2012). Serving food allergic guests: Best Practices for Safety. New Jersey Environmental Health Association: Atlantic City. Retrieved from http://www.njeha.org/pdf/Food%20Allergies%20Presentation.pdf

Wood, R. A. (2002). Food manufacturing and the allergic consumer: Accidents waiting to happen. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 109, 920-922.