Beyond the Top Eight Allergens: Spices, Flavorings and Colorings

4850936643_08ec223314_zAs food allergies continue to become a more prominent public concern, the foodservice industry must practice awareness and caution while handling food. Expanding beyond the Top Eight Allergens is an important concept in food service, as many diners express concerns regarding lesser-known allergens. There are over 170 food proteins that can trigger an allergic reaction, yet only eight of these are required by law to be identified on food labels in an allergen statement.

With so many unidentified ingredients lurking within products, individuals in the industry must remain proactive when it comes to allergens.

The Top Eight Allergens, which encompass 90% of food allergies, include:

  • Wheat
  • Soy
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts

Looking beyond these eight allergens requires an investigative attitude since some allergen-inducing items are not clearly outlined in ingredient statements. Spices, flavorings, and colorings are top offenders of this deception. When any of these three items are listed on a product, be aware that some of the less common allergens may be lurking within. This happens most often with various sauces and dressings that are not being made in-house at a restaurant.

Surprisingly, there are exemptions when it comes to labeling product ingredients. The specific blend of spices, the chemical make up of colorings, and the compounds synthesizing flavorings don’t have to be explicitly listed on foods if they aren’t derived from one of the Top Eight. Rather, a collective term can encompass the various blends that concoct these items. Although the terms “flavoring,” “coloring” or “spices” may be listed on products, there is usually not an accompanying statement identifying specifics. These ingredients often include allergenic foods like seeds, gelatins or corn, along with many others.

As with any law, there are ingredients that are exempt from falling into the collective terms spices, flavorings and colorings. Garlic, onion and celery are recognized as food items and therefore must be called out if they are included in spice blends, flavorings or colorings. With the identification of these three ingredients, only 11 of the 170 allergen-causing ingredients are required on all food labels.

In order to learn which ingredients give the signature flavor, specific spice or unique color of the product, the manufacturer must be contacted for more information. Food labels are required to include contact information of the manufacturer. As this process may take weeks to receive an answer, proactive inquiries regarding food allergens are necessary and will allow for a quicker, more accurate response when a diner inquires about a food allergy and a specific menu item. It is also useful to keep ingredient lists, allergen statements, and recipes on hand for these inquiries.

Obscure allergenic ingredients may also be unintentionally introduced during manufacturing. Cross-contact may occur in the facility which produces the product. When contacting a manufacturer to learn about ingredients, it is also important to ask about other products produced in the facility. This applies to the restaurant industry as well since cross-contact can easily occur during busy mealtimes.

The next time a diner inquires about a lesser-known food allergy, be sure to invest time in seeking the answer. Contacting manufacturers to learn more about ambiguous foods listed in ingredient statements can help avoid a major accident. Even a practiced eye that is alert to the top eight allergens can miss those hidden within collective ingredient terms. At MenuTrinfo®, our team of Culinary Nutritionists can identify lesser-known food allergens to provide staff and customers with peace of mind. So, if you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to call 888.767.6368 for more information today!

Image: Patent and the Pantry/flickr

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