Food Allergen Recalls: What’s On the Table?


The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die each year from foodborne illnesses. Food safety and food testing technology keep getting better, yet recalls have been on the rise. Why? While many recalls are for unsafe/contaminated food, many times it’s due to allergens. In fact, one third of all recalls are due to the mislabeling of allergens in food products.

The U.S. recognizes eight allergens that contribute to 90% of the allergic reactions in the U.S. They can be easily remembered by the following acronym—“NEWS”:

N – Nuts (Peanuts or tree nuts are species specific and must be individually identified)
E – Eggs/milk
W – Wheat/soy
S – Shellfish/fish –These are also species specific so the type of fish must be identified.

Canada also includes sesame seeds, mustard and sulfites as listed allergens. So, companies exporting to Canada must be aware of this on their labels.

Three Ways Allergens Get Into the Food Supply
Allergens can mistakenly get into food products by one of three ways: cross contact on food surfaces, cross contamination or mislabeling. Cross contact occurs when surfaces are shared between items with and without these allergens, when surfaces aren’t properly cleaned, or when ingredients might be substituted and labels aren’t checked for the introduction of new allergens. It’s important to remember that sanitizing surfaces does not remove allergens—only cleaning with proper cleaning solutions and agitation.

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)—Proactive Instead of Reactive
The old food laws put the emphasis on controlling hazards through the use of “critical control points” under HACCP rules. The new FSMA has moved the emphasis to preventing hazards from occurring in the first place. The most significant factor is the requirement that every food processor must have a Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI) available to them. A PCQI is trained to identify food safety hazards and to develop and maintain a company’s food safety plan to control dangers that are likely to occur and that have severe consequences should they make their way into our food.

Under FSMA, the three biggest areas that companies have increased responsibility include: monitoring their supply chain, having proper sanitation programs and ensuring the accuracy of their labels. Supply chain controls involve getting written documentation from their approved suppliers that their products are what they say they are and that they have certificates of analysis, when necessary. Proper sanitation programs require segregating allergens in dry storage as well as during processing. These also include adequate cleaning and sanitizing between processing runs to reduce or eliminate the chance of leftover allergen residue being picked up by another product. The third area includes proper labeling of the final product. Labels of inbound products must be checked for accuracy to make sure any allergens are properly labeled before the product leaves the facility.

Simple Allergens Can Hide
Do you know that “sodium caseinate” is actually milk? Or that lecithin comes from soy? Not only do employees need to know about the ingredients, but they also need to be aware of packaging issues as well. Some lubricants and packages are made with ingredients derived from wheat and casein. Supplier verification and a knowledgeable, trained workforce is essential to catch these hazards before they reach the consumer.

For most people without allergies these problems will go unnoticed, but if you suffer from life-threatening food allergies, the results could be deadly. That’s why it's critical for food manufacturers to properly train all staff and ensure food laws are strictly followed.

In other news: The Center is pleased to host the following food event in June:

FSPCA Preventive Controls for Human Food
This course is recognized by the FDA as meeting the requirements to become a Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI). Individuals successfully completing this training will receive a certificate from the Food Safety Preventive Controls Alliance (FSPCA).

June 2, 9 & 16, 2017
8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
45501 Helm St.
Plymouth, MI

For more information, or to register, click here.


John Spillson, Food Business Development Manager
John Spillson is a member of The Center’s Food Team. For more than 20 years, John owned and operated his own food processing company, taking a family recipe of rice pudding into five states. This experience has given him extensive knowledge in production, sales, food safety, marketing, warehousing and logistics. To read John’s full bio, click here.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Categories: Food Processing, Quality Management