The National Food Processors Association (NFPA) has released an industry "Code of Practice" for managing food allergens. The purpose of the code is to delineate general practices used by food companies to ensure effective management of food allergens.

"The code is an important step forward by the food industry in addressing the issue of food allergens," said Dr. Rhona Applebaum, NFPA executive vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs. "The code -- which has taken more than a year to finalize -- was developed with input from not only from NFPA member companies but also from the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as well as the Food Allergy and Anapylaxis Network, the leading consumer group addres-sing this issue."

She added that food processors must be diligent in minimizing the risk of allergic consumers coming in contact with food allergens "inadvertently present in a product and consequently not declared on the label."

The code states that NFPA members subscribe to the following practices:

  • Members label -- in terms commonly understood by consumers -- the major food allergens in their ingredient declarations, including those that are a part of natural and artificial flavors, and other food components.

  • Members also use GMPs and other allergen control strategies -- including training, separation, sanitation and scheduling -- to manage and minimize the potential cross contact of the major food allergens.

  • Members take an active role in educating employees, business partners, ingredient suppliers, food service customers and consumers about food allergens.

The Code was released on the heels of a study by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) focusing on the presence of peanut and egg allergens on ice cream, bakery and candy processing lines. Label verification, rework procedures, cross-contact prevention and general allergen-control procedures were reviewed at 85 randomly selected firms within the states of Minnesota and Wisconsin. Results showed that 25 percent of final food product samples tested positive for peanut allergens even though peanut allergens were not declared on the product label.

The study was undertaken as a result of the "observed increase in allergen-related recalls across the country," according to a written statement by FDA. The statement indicated FDA was "concerned over the continued finding of undeclared allergens" and indicated plans to issue an allergen protection guide to its field offices to provide investigators with an inspection tool designed to identify problem areas in the food industry that could result in undeclared allergens.