FSIS inspectors boosting allergen education, activities

by Bryan Salvage
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WASHINGTON – Instructions were issued on July 7 by the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to its inspection program personnel to help protect vulnerable consumers following an increased number of products that were recalled the first half of 2011 due to the presence of undeclared allergens or other ingredients. As a result of the new instructions, FSIS personnel are now charged with making establishments aware of the importance and prevalence of undeclared allergens in meat and poultry products – and how to best ensure labels are kept current and accurate.

In the first six months of 2011, FSIS had overseen 27 recalls for undeclared ingredients; 20 are the result of undeclared allergens. For the preceding two years combined, FSIS issued recalls for a total of 32 undeclared allergens. Mislabeling for one of the eight main allergens typically results in a Class I recall because of the associated public health risk.

“This rise is of particular importance to me both as a medical doctor and as a parent, especially as recent reports have shown that the number of children with allergies is on the rise,” said Elisabeth Hagen, Ph.D., Under Secretary for Food Safety. “FSIS will continue to improve its efforts to ensure that public health and labeling requirements are met.”

In many of such cases, the recalls were a result of a change in product formulation by an establishment or a change in a supplier’s ingredients, which had gone unnoticed on their labels. Consuming one undeclared allergen could result in an adverse health reaction. Allergens include wheat, Crustacean shellfish (e.g. shrimp, crab, lobster), eggs, fish, peanuts, milk, tree nuts (e.g., almonds, pecans, walnuts) and soybeans.

“I am confident FSIS inspectors and establishment personnel will take a close look at any changes or variations in their ingredient labeling,” said Al Almanza, FSIS administrator. “This is an important issue and a good opportunity to evaluate and work on our best practices.”
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