This month’s blog post comes from Michelle at LiberEat discussing their Allergen Detection Software.
Allergens and Food Safety Professionals
There’s no escaping allergens, and there’s no escaping the rigorous safety measures that must be in place to protect consumers from the dangers of allergens getting into the wrong hands.
As allergies become more prevalent, stricter rules and laws protect consumers from allergens. Natasha’s Law and Owen’s Law Campaign aim to communicate the presence of allergens and ensure consumer safety. It’s a challenging time for food safety and quality assurance professionals.
In UK food production alone, there have been 32 recalls purely due to allergens present in products in 2023 so far; in 2022, it was 78 (FSA Alerts). As we see across the press and media, many incidents occur in restaurants and eateries yearly.
A common theme is Milk is missing in the allergen declaration of vegan products. We also see Peanuts, Gluten, Soya, Sulphur Dioxide, and Eggs regularly missed on allergen declarations, leading to costly recalls. According to Kerry Group, in a recent Proactive Food Safety Conference presentation, the average recall cost is $10M. The impact can be catastrophic for both food businesses and consumers.
In my experience, having discussed this with several food safety professionals – their number one priority is protecting the consumers they serve and providing food and beverage that is both safe and enjoyable. Food safety professionals from different brands work together globally, despite being competitors, to ensure food safety. Their camaraderie in pursuing this shared goal is both heartwarming and refreshing.
What is Allergen Detection Software?
We define allergen detection software as a technology platform that plugs into existing systems and technology to examine the data and, using a specifically designed algorithm, detects the major allergens for each particular country, whether missing or present.
In instances where the allergens have not been declared correctly in supplier data, menus, websites, or labels, the software will detect and communicate this information to the company’s food safety team using a simple warning system so that they can take action to rectify it.
Why do we need this? How many allergen errors are there?
Many food businesses, of all sizes, in manufacturing, retail, hospitality and catering, enrol several platforms and processes to ensure their allergen data is correct. However, these rely on the data being input being accurate.
The responsibility for allergen compliance often sits with the Head of Food Safety or Quality Assurance or Technical, along with the broader team that works to create and nurture a culture of care and excellence. One mistake can massively impact team morale as well as the bottom line.
However, allergen errors in consumer-facing information fall through the cracks despite this level of due diligence, causing real stress.
The result of a missing allergen on a declaration can vary, from a recall to loss of faith from the consumer leading to falling sales, consumer injury and, in the worst cases, fatalities.
At LiberEat, we continuously test and learn with data from big brands and, in the last six months alone, have found 600+ errors live in menus, websites, labels and supplier data . Missing an allergen that then reaches a consumer is every food brand’s worst nightmare. We are on a mission to stop these errors and risks from reaching consumers and to make food safer for everyone.
Common Allergens and Their Risks
In the UK, we have 14 major allergens, and we’ve outlined some of the places you might find these;
- Cereals Containing Gluten – including wheat, barley, and oats.
- Sesame can be in bread, soups, sesame oil, and pastes like tahini and hummus.
- Tree Nuts – such as almonds and hazelnuts are often found in chocolates, muesli and baked goods.
- Crustaceans – such as lobster, langoustines and prawns, are found in curries, sauces and paella.
- Fish – which can be found in curries, pizza and Caesar salad.
- Mustard – is often used in various spice combinations, curries, salad dressings and processed meats – such as burgers and sausages.
- Milk – is found in dairy products such as butter, cheese and yoghurt and can be found in less obvious products like bread and salt and vinegar crisps.
- Celery – commonly used in curries, soups and salads.
- Peanuts – are often used as artificial flavouring and are contained in many cakes and biscuits.
- Soya – found in soy milk, tofu, and bean sprouts and is sometimes an ingredient in canned tuna.
- Molluscs include octopus, land snails and mussels, common ingredients in oyster sauce and fish stews.
- Lupin is found in some flours and used for bread, pastries and pasta.
- Sulphur Dioxide, also known as sulphites – is often found in dried fruit, pickled food and alcohol such as beer, wine and cider.
- Eggs – found in cakes, sauces, and pasta.
In the United States, there are 9 Major Food Allergens with the recent addition of Sesame – and these vary further in Asia, Europe and beyond.
Allergic reactions to these ingredients vary significantly from an upset stomach or swollen throat to Anaphylaxis and, in extreme cases, death.
Challenges in Allergen Management Facing Food Safety Professionals
There are three key challenges that Food Safety professionals often highlight to us.
Allergen-related errors and their impact on businesses
Allergen-related recalls occur when allergens are missing or incorrectly declared within products or on their packaging, putting consumers with allergies at risk when consuming them. Food brands then must remove these items from the shelves and urge consumers to return them. Food recalls alone are a massive cause of food wastage, legal costs and brand damage lowering consumer trust.
Difficulties in detecting and tracking allergens and errors slipping through are prevalent globally in food businesses of all sizes.
Cross-contamination risks during food processing
Cross-contamination is a significant concern in food processing, as it can spread harmful pathogens or allergens from one food item to another through direct contact between contaminated and uncontaminated foods or indirectly through equipment, surfaces, or personnel.
Food fraud is the intentional deception or misrepresentation of food products or ingredients for economic gain by substituting, diluting, or adulterating food items with inferior or more inexpensive substances throughout the supply chain.
Empowering Food Safety Professionals with Technology
A partner recently told us that having the allergen detection software running, checking their data 24/7, 365 days of the year, means he can sleep soundly at night.
We can’t fix all of the challenges that face food safety professionals – but we can ensure that the allergen declarations on their labels, menus, websites and ingredient lists are correct, presenting all allergens clearly to enable consumers to make informed decisions.
The impact of allergen incidents on brand reputation is enormous; one recall or customer injury can attract negative press and damage consumer trust and sales.
As well as empowering food safety professionals by enhancing accuracy and efficiency in allergen detection, using allergen detection software can help to build brand loyalty through transparent allergen management, building consumer trust.
Food Safety in 2023
In 2023, the importance of allergen detection software in food safety and quality assurance processes cannot be overstated.
Facing multifaceted challenges, food safety professionals can find a lifeline in allergen detection software, ensuring accurate allergen declarations and averting potential crises that could harm consumers and brands.
Looking ahead, the industry embraces technology adoption for a safer and more secure food industry. By harnessing the power of allergen detection software, food safety professionals continue their mission of providing safe, enjoyable food and beverages, building a culture of care and excellence for consumers.
Written by Michelle McClure – CMO at LiberEat – Making Food Safer for Everyone