Food Allergies – awareness increasing
There is an increased awareness of the effects of food allergens. In some people the effects may cause mild to more serious discomfort, but for other people the effects can even be life-threatening.
Food allergens typically affect skin, digestive track or respiratory system. Symptoms can be a rash, eczema, diarrhoea, cramps or other discomforts like headache. Respiratory problems can include swelling of the tongue and throat, or in bad cases, asphyxiation. The effects can appear almost immediately or take up to three days to show, making it very difficult to track the culprit food substance.
Food allergies are also not always recognized or diagnosed correctly, but even when diagnosed, life with food allergies can be very complicated. The prevalence of food allergies and the trend of its increase amongst the general population, especially children, has fortunately not gone unnoticed by the authorities. It has led to improved legislation in the EU and strict requirements for the labelling of products produced and sold in Europe.
Marthomi Allergy Free Foods adheres strictly to the legal requirements in Europe for labelling its products:
Food allergies and legislation in Europe: EU list of food allergens for labelling regulations (2003/89/EC and 2006/142/EC)
EC Directive 89/2003 covers following list of 14 food allergens:
- Nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios, macadamia nuts and Queensland nuts)
- Cereals containing gluten (including wheat, rye, barley and oats)
- Sesame seeds
- Crustaceans (including prawns, crab and lobster)
- Molluscs (including squid, mussels, cockles, whelks and snails)
- Sulphur dioxide/sulphites (level max 10mg/kg)
Allergens can enter foods inadvertently through, for example, the use of common processing equipment, or adjacent production lines. This may for example result in a “peanut-free” product containing traces of peanut. The Codex recommendations or the EU Labelling Directive do not cover this cross-contact.
In order to manage allergens and to avoid the unintentional presence of allergens in food products we base our conclusions on the use a HACCP programme at our production sites. The hazards associated with the whole “lifecycle” of the product is evaluated, starting with the raw materials and assessing every step of the process through to labelling and packaging of the final product for consumption. Along this pathway the critical points where allergens may be introduced into products during manufacture or where products may be wrongly labelled are identified. A system is in place to monitor these critical control points to ensure that unintentional cross contact and incorrectly labelled products are absolutely minimised.
“Having assessed the risk of cross contact with allergens, and where possible eliminated or reduced the risk, a producer must decide whether or not precautionary labelling is appropriate. A producer should only use precautionary labelling where there is a demonstrable and significant risk of allergen cross-contact. Precautionary labelling as not a substitute for Good Manufacturing Practice.” At Marthomi we feel that this is leaving much open and we have chosen to consistently inform consumers fully of the allergens present at our production sites.
How do we communicate this allergen risk to consumers? At Marthomi we follow guidelines and detailed advice on how to communicate the allergen risk to our consumers via the product label. Allergic consumers find ingredient information, which is easy to find, read and understand as well as the information on which allergens are present on the site. We use simple phrases such as “This product is made in a factory which handles nut and dairy products”.
This precautionary labelling does not mean that we do not take the utmost care and effort to ensure the high allergen-free quality of all our products.
Marthomi detailed consumer information: How allergenfree is „free-from”?
We know from own experience how extremely important it is, to avoid allergens in foods. All our products are produced with special recipes containing none of the allergens recognized in the EU.
Our experience has also shown that it is best to keep the recipes as simple and pure as possible. We use as few as possible ingredients and we require these to be natural, in fact almost all ingredients we use are certified organic. You will not find highly-processed or unnatural ingredients like taste enhancers, alternative sweeteners or colourants in our products.
Our production sites
In some instances we cannot avoid having some allergens on site where our products are manufactured. Unfortunately, a 100% allergen-free production environment and complete food chain is not feasible. However, in our opinion some allergens can cause more problems than others. Peanuts are the leading cause of severe food allergic reactions, followed by shellfish, fish, tree nuts and eggs. (Source: Food Allergy Network). Since peanuts can cause a severe allergic reaction from even the smallest quantities, we have no peanuts on any of our production sites. For coeliac sufferers we guarantee complete gluten-free production environments.
Our Rice Mice Cookies are baked in a bakery which uses only gluten-free grains. We base our products on organic rice. Not only is our factory completely free from gluten, but also from milk and lactose, peanuts and tree-nuts. This is unique in Europe.
Our Zero Zebra Choc Shapes (Safari Party, Spring Fever, Cool School, Winter Wonder) are made in a factory which is gluten, peanut and nut-free. Products containing dairy are produced in the same factory (read more about how we manage this below).
Our Zero Zebra Rice Choc Bars are produced in a factory which is also gluten and peanut-free. However, this factory also handles products with the ingredients milk (dairy), hazelnuts, almonds and very rarely pistachios.
To avoid cross-contamination we have strict control measures to monitor every step of the production and prepare for each batch. We have separate and dedicated chocolate melting kettles for our rice-based chocolate. This is supported by dedicated pipe lines and dedicated moulding shapes only used for our products. On one small part of the process where the product can come in contact with a residue of ‘normal chocolate’ we extensively flush and clean the affected machine component for 24 hours to have the best possible and consistent allergen results.
We have a strong Allergen Management System in place to monitor our products.
Every first product of every chocolate production batch is monitored to ensure consistent quality. The monitoring includes testing by independent laboratories for traces of allergens using DNA detection and ELISA techniques.
Not only do we strictly follow EU regulations, we work actively with allergen consultants to ensure best practices. Each year we are invited by the Dutch Allergy Association and the German Asthma and Allergy Association to present our products to their allergic members.
Labelling our products
Despite the extensive precautions we take to avoid contamination and ensure and validate that our products remain free from allergens, we still find it important to inform you of all allergens handled at the production facility. This is why we clearly state on our Zero Zebra Rice Choc Bar range “This product is made in a factory that handles nut and dairy products” and on our Zero Zebra Chocolate Shapes products: “Factory also handles dairy products”.
Please see the specific allergy communication on the product of your choice in order to decide for yourself whether the product is suitable for you. If you need more information about a specific product and allergens please feel free to contact us
Marthomi Allergy Free Foods GmbH, Bad Honnef.