Food Allergy Awareness
New Tools to Support the Food Allergic Community
Guest Post by Betsey Craig, Founder & President of MenuTrinfo.
Since starting MenuTrinfo® in 2010, I have been passionately involved in the food industry and have become a fierce advocate for those suffering with food allergies. As one who has often been referred to as an “expert” on the topic of food allergy safety and with millions around the world affected by food allergies, it has become my mission to drive awareness and knowledge on how to safely assist folks who are impacted by food allergies. In recognition of food allergy week, May 9-15th we will cover a few important developments in this area that impacts millions of lives.
In 2013, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) released a report stating 15 million people in the U.S. were suffering from one or more food allergies, which was a massive increase (up over 50%) since 1997. Today, the estimated number of those affected is approximately 32 million people.
Diving into the major allergens affecting Americans, it is no stretch to call what is happening in America a public health crisis or as FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) has called it, “The Food Allergy Epidemic.” Today 1 in 10 adults and 1 in 13 children have a food allergy. These numbers are staggering! To learn more, check out this infographic from FARE with more information. Finally, for information pertaining to allergens, such as top sources in the diet and how to recognize the symptoms from exposure, visit “FAACT’s”(Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Connection Team) website or this fact sheet.
One of the reasons for the increased number of individuals with food allergies is the direct result of additional diagnostic options today. As science evolves there are multiple ways to determine if a person does have a food allergic reaction, such as skin testing, blood tests, oral challenges, and elimination diets to name a few. It is worth noting there are at least 7 diagnostic methods that are considered controversial. For more information on these methods visit FARE’s website. Newly diagnosed? I have found this resource from FAACT to be extremely helpful.
There are over a dozen nonprofit food allergy groups across the U.S. and most had been advocating to have sesame added as the ninth major food allergen. As a result, there is now a brand-new federal mandate that will change the rules and add sesame shortly.
On April 14th, 2021 Congress took the step to pass the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research (FASTER) Act of 2021(S. 578). Happy to report that on Friday, April 23, as part of his first 100 days in office, President Biden signed this act into law.
The law will change the current wording on the label from “and soybeans” to “and soybeans, and sesame”. Additionally, language in the act gives the food industry until January 1, 2023 to get prepared for the new top allergen. This will ensure increased transparency of ingredients, especially as sesame is an ingredient that may be “hidden” in an ingredient list, such as seasonings or flavorings.
Having been on the training end of food allergies the call to action for those with a food allergy has also evolved through the years. It started more than 10 years ago with the directions and advice to respond to a food allergic reaction with a 911 call first and administer lifesaving medication, like epinephrine to prevent a catastrophic event. Today we still have two steps just in a slightly different order:
Thanks to the efforts of numerous individuals advocating on behalf of the food allergy community, many places can have an epinephrine device on hand and available for anyone that might need it. This is forward thinking and most certainly a relief for the food allergic consumer.
Where have we seen this adopted? Schools, especially K-12’s, have embraced the solution to assist when/if needed. Just in the last few years this is now mostly a common occurrence in school systems across the US. today.
As children with food allergies grow and look to what’s next for their education food is always a concern. Sometimes a bigger concern over anything else. This increases the pressure on food service staff to safely accommodate all sorts of special dietary needs and step up to the challenge. We have seen dozens upon dozens of dining halls dedicate space to “Free from Area” for those that have food allergies.
I have watched as we went from simple audits to check food allergen safety from “Loading Dock to Tabletop” in dining halls and spaces. Colleges are now seeking and achieving ISO17065 standards through accreditation with “Certified Free From™” status. Parents and those impacted can sleep a little better and breathe easier knowing a food service external review is being done by experts in food safety when it comes to allergens.