The month of May has been declared to be Food Allergy Awareness month. According to a recent article written by Christina Fortner, Food Safety Specialist from the office of Food Safety, Supplemental Nutrition Safety Programs, and distributed by the USDA, it is estimated that “6 million children, or 8% of the child population, have food allergies. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the numbers are on the rise- increasing 50% between 1997 and 2011."
Responding to this increase a lot of food manufacturers have begun to jump on what they see as the bandwagon of food allergy safe products they advertise as allergen-free or Allergen friendly or top eight free but the reality is they are not necessarily doing it for the consumer they are really doing it for the bottom line without a clear understanding of what exactly is involved in keeping the allergic consumer safe. A prime example of this is Nestlé‘s new Simply Delicious product. When I first saw that Nestlé will be coming out with a 8 free chocolate chip in June I became very excited. I asked the person who researches our ingredients to please look into this, that’s terrific, I need to double check where they are manufacturing and how they are manufacturing as we do with all of our ingredients and of course I needed to see that they were certified kosher. I need to see that they are certified allergen free and certified gluten-free and as always when a product claims to be allergen free or free from we doublecheck and triple check all of their certifications to make sure that it is indeed safe for us to use in our products and to recommend to our customers.
Well, we’ve kind of had a dilemma because on the same page that Nestlé‘s is advertising their simply delicious free from top 8 chocolate chips they are also advertising their simply delicious peanut butter chocolate chip cookie pucks so the question now is are these all being manufactured in the same facility and if they are, obviously we can’t use these free from chips and if they are not why can’t food manufacturers just market to the food allergy community? Nestlé already has chocolate chips and they already have peanut butter cookie pucks and while we understand they’re trying to have a clean label, clean label and allergy free are not synonymous and it doesn’t mean the same thing. How often do you find yourself going to a restaurant, my celiac people, and you tell the waiter that you have celiac disease and they say to you that the dish has butter is that ok? And you look at the waiter for a minute and think to yourself that wasn’t what you wanted to convey to the waiter when you said you had celiac disease and couldn’t have gluten you weren’t talking about butter you weren’t talking about dairy. When you’re talking about when you’re being free from the top eight and when you’re talking about a clean label you’re talking about two very separate things so either market at something as non-GMO and clean label and/or market something as top eight free don’t try to do both at the same time unless you are fully committed to doing it correctly. There are audiences that do look for both but there is a growing audience whose first and foremost concern is that an item is free from allergens and second concern is GMO Free.
I don’t understand why when we went to look at these free from chocolate chips, (which really have a fabulous ingredient list as they don’t have any lecithin of any form so they could be marketed as top 10 allergen-free not just as top 8) they have them on the same page with the peanut butter cookie so it’s it’s very confusing and it’s very disturbing and it’s very disheartening.
Why not have an entire product line just geared towards your Allergen community? It is really OK- not everything in the food industry needs to be geared towards the masses. Nestle, you have such great potential with this product but you miss the point when you advertise it in a product that defeats the purpose.
In honor of Food Allergy Awareness Month let’s celebrate manufacturers who are making an effort to recognize the growing number of children (and adults) with food allergies and remember that there are many of us who go out of our way to ensure the safety of our consumers. We recognize that no one chooses to have a Food Allergy.