FSIS releases new guide to help food processors control potential allergens, other hazards

The  U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has released new guidelines to assist meat, poultry, and processed egg product producers in properly managing ingredients that could trigger adverse reactions among consumers with allergies or other sensitivities.

food.allergies“Our mission as a public health agency is to protect America’s most vulnerable populations, including children, from harm, and these new guidelines do just that,” said USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Al Almanza. “Beyond keeping our families safe, these guidelines also provide a useful tool to help food companies avoid preventable, costly recalls.”

Food allergens are a public health issue impacting millions of Americans. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that two percent of adults, and four to eight percent of children, in the United States have food allergies. Food allergens can cause serious symptoms and can result in anaphylaxis, a potentially life threatening reaction.

Over the last several years, in part due to new actions by FSIS, there has been an increase in recalls of FSIS regulated products due to undeclared allergens. These problems often are caught by FSIS inspectors during labeling checks and are the result of changes to ingredient suppliers, products being placed in the wrong package, or changes to product or ingredient formulations.

By following these new guidelines, establishments are more likely to ensure that product labels declare all ingredients, as required by law, and that products do not contain undeclared allergens or other undeclared ingredients.  The guidance covers prevention and control measures of potentially allergic ingredients, packaging, labeling, storage, checklists, and allergen training, among others.

The finalized guidelines are part of FSIS’ comprehensive and ongoing efforts to reduce the number of allergen-related recalls. In April 2015, FSIS inspectors met with management at every FSIS-regulated establishment in the country to discuss whether the establishment produces items containing allergens, and, if so, whether the establishment had a process in place to ensure proper labeling. FSIS inspectors then increased the number of allergen labeling-related inspection checks they conduct in these establishments in order to ensure products are properly labeled. The Agency believes that this action has made plants more conscious of properly labeling their products and prevented additional recalls this year.

The guidelines can be found online at: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/AllergenGuide

Over the past six years, USDA has collaborated extensively with other federal partners to safeguard America’s food supply, prevent foodborne illnesses and improve consumers’ knowledge about the food they eat. USDA’s FSIS is working to strengthen federal food safety efforts and develop strategies that emphasize a three-dimensional approach to prevent foodborne illness: prioritizing prevention; strengthening surveillance and enforcement; and improving response and recovery.