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Introduction

Food allergies that affect 6-13% of the global population have become a significant burden on healthcare, and their prevalence continues to rise [1]. The current standard of care remains limited to avoidance of allergenic foods and management of acute allergic reactions through the administration of antihistamines and epinephrine autoinjectors. Pets too, are allergic to certain ingredients. While chicken is a great protein source that provides essential amino acids to support strong muscles and also provide energy, up to 25% of dogs may have an adverse reaction to it [2]. Vomiting, diarrhoea and itchy skin are a few symptoms to look out for in both cats and dogs. More specifically, dogs may end up with chronic ear infections, while cats may experience wheezing, gas and bloating as a result of eating certain foods that do not agree with them [3].

In the United States, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 reminds people of allergy problems every time they handle a food package, and restaurants have added allergen warnings to menus [4]. The Culinary Institute of America, which is a premier school for chef training, provides courses in allergen-free cooking. The institute, interestingly, has a separate teaching kitchen [5].

In July 2021, the introduction of Natasha’s Law, named after Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, was announced. Natasha, aged 15, died in 2016 from a severe allergic reaction after eating an artichoke, olive and tapenade baguette at Heathrow airport. Following Natasha’s death, Natasha’s law came into force in UK in October 2021; according to which the manufacturer will have to provide the full list of ingredients and allergen labelling on all foods pre-packaged for direct sale in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland [6].

Types of allergens

Milk
Milk is said to be a complete food that contains all nutrients, except Vitamin C. Researchers have claimed that milk proteins, namely casein and whey proteins (alpha-lactalbumin and beta-lactalbumin), cause serious reactions with blood in some people; resulting in swelling of the airways, thus impairing the ability to breathe, a sudden drop in blood pressure that can cause dizziness and fainting, and anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction [7].

Allergen Free Foods

Milk has specific labeling requirements under the USFDA’s Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004, which states that the packaged food products containing milk as an ingredient, sold in the U.S., should include the presence of milk or milk products in clear language, on the ingredient label [8].

Nuts/tree nuts
Nuts/tree nuts are usually high in proteins and contain dietary substances. Proteins in the nuts/treenuts bind with the specific IgE antibodies made by the person’s immune system. This binding triggers the person’s immune defenses, leading to asthma, skin rashes, itchy throat, swollen eyes and severe reactions such as anaphylaxis [9]. In the U.S., plain-language labeling is mandatory on packaged foods containing any of 18 different tree nuts [10].

Eggs
Egg allergy develops when a human body’s immune system gets sensitive and overreacts to proteins in egg whites and/or yolks. Thus, when eggs are consumed, the body detects the protein as an external intruder and sends out chemicals to safeguard against it. These chemicals produced by the body may cause the symptoms of an allergic reaction [11].

Peanut
Peanut allergy is the most common food allergy in children under the age of 18, and the second-most common food allergy in adults. Unlike some food allergies, peanut allergy is usually lifelong, with only about 20% of children outgrowing it [12].

Fish
Finned fish allergy is one of the most common allergies worldwide, affecting about 1% in the U.S. population. In a study, salmon, tuna, catfish and cod fishes cause allergic reactions in most people [13]. Being allergic to one fish does not always mean that a person must avoid all varieties of fish, though care is needed to prevent cross-contact between different fishes.

Wheat/Gluten
Wheat is one of the major ingredients in confectionery and bakery products. Gluten allergy, also termed as celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, non-celiac wheat sensitivity, etc. is an allergic reaction to Gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley [14]. In some people, eating gluten triggers an immune response in the small intestine. With time, this can damage the intestine linings and prevent the absorption of nutrients, which can lead to malnutrition. This can further lead to diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, bloating and anemia, resulting in serious complications [15].

Shell fish
Shell fish allergy mostly affects adults and is very uncommon in children. It is estimated that more than 6.5 million American adults have allergies to shell fish or finned fish, or both, according to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE). Shell fish includes crustaceans (shrimp, crayfish, crab, lobster) and Mollusks (clams, scallops, oysters, mussels) [16, 17].

Soy
Nowadays, the majority of the vegan foods are made from soy. Soy is among the eight most common foods inducing allergic reactions in children and adults, and it has a prevalence of about 0.3% in the general population. Soy allergy is caused by an overreaction of the immune system, resulting in physical symptoms such as gastrointestinal discomfort, respiratory distress, skin reaction, etc. [19].

Labeling of allergens:

One of the safest ways to prevent food allergy is to avoid its intake. When a person consumes processed food, he will not be able to predict what is contained in the product. Thus, the labelling of the product plays an important role in letting the consumer know about the ingredients contained in the food item, and also the equipment used for its processing, both of which can cause allergic reactions. A food processor may use the same equipment to make both milk chocolate and dark chocolate, but the company’s cleaning process may not meet the required standards to remove all the milk protein from the equipment between batches [20]. Food processors are required to exclude unlabeled allergens out of the food item and prevent their cross-contamination. Proper labeling of foods that contain allergens is mandatory [21].

USFDA requires the top eight food allergens namely milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans; to be labeled using their common names. To be more specific, instead of less familiar terms such as casein, whey, lactose, dairy, or lactalbumin appearing on a label, the more common name, milk, should always be listed on the label [22].

On the other hand, Food Information for Consumers Regulation (EU FIC), introduced in December 2014, has listed 14 potential allergens, which must be in italics, bold, underlined and colored, on the food

Labeling of allergens
Labeling of allergens

label [23]. For foods that are ordered, say in restaurants, these must be mentioned on the menu, or hand written by chalk, or through other ways to inform the consumer about the presence of possible allergens [24]. It is therefore advisable that a manufacturer seeks the expertise of a third party such as a lawyer or a labeling expert for ensuring that the labels are fully compliant with the laws of the country [25].

Food recalls due to Allergens:

Food companies are very sensitive to complaints received from consumers. Even if there is a single complaint about a certain allergen-free product, the respective company will recall the entire batch.

The J.M. Smucker Company, in 2017, announced a limited voluntary recall on certain lots of 9LivesTM, EverPetTM, and Special KittyTM canned cat food due to possible low levels of thiamine (Vitamin B1). The company’s Quality Assurance team discovered this during inspection of production records at the manufacturing facility. Although no illnesses related to this issue were reported, the product was recalled out of an abundance of caution [26].

Unilever recalled Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie Pint Slices in 2019, because some boxes contained incorrect peanut flavors. Although the slices were individually wrapped and identified as Vanilla Peanut Butter Cup Pint Slices, Unilever said that they might have inadvertently contained peanut butter, a known allergen, which was undeclared on the product’s outer packaging [27].

During the same year, the company recalled a limited quantity of Ben & Jerry’s Coconut Seven Layer Bar bulk and Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey pints. Both the affected products included a “contains walnuts” and “may contain other tree nuts” label on the back of the package. Yet, Unilever recalled the product that may have inadvertently contained tree nuts, including almonds, Brazil nuts and hazelnuts that were not declared explicitly in the ingredient list or allergy information list [28].

Aldi also issued urgent food recall amid allergy fears in August 2021. The product, “Two Puff Pastry Cheese & Onion Slices” contained the ingredients mustard and barley in the baking, which were not mentioned on the package and could have posed a threat to anyone with a serious allergy [29].

Golden Natural Products recalled a couple of lots of “Dried Apricot Subkhon” in 2021, because they contained undeclared sulfites. People who have an allergy or severe sensitivity to sulfites run the risk of life-threatening allergic reactions if they consume sulfite-containing products [30].

Nature’s Sunshine announced in April 2021 that it initiated a voluntary recall of certain lots of its Love & Peas product after being notified by an ingredient supplier that an ingredient used in the manufacturing of certain lots may contain milk [31].

Eat Real recalled certain batches of Puff products, Mamia Organic Carrot Puffs and Mamia Organic Tomato Wheels in July 2021, as they were suspected to contain milk that was not stated on the packaging [32].

Morrisons recalled its Onion Bhaji & Mango Chutney in July 2021. This was due to the product containing wheat, which was not stated on the label. The possible presence of wheat poses a threat to those with gluten allergy [33].

Lidl recalled its “My Street Food Patatas Bravas with Aioli Dip” product in August 2021. The product contained dairy in the form of “sweet whey powder” – but this wasn’t disclosed on the label. Thus, the product was a possible health risk for anyone with an allergy or intolerance to milk or milk constituents [34].

Fifth Season announced in August 2022, that it has issued a voluntary recall for a limited amount of its branded Crunchy Sesame Salad Kits due to the possible inclusion of an ingredient not listed on the product label. The Salad kit might have contained a dressing packet containing milk and egg, not declared on the label [35].

The Gluten Free Bar of Grand Rapids recalled Dark Chocolate Coconut Bites in August 2022, because it was suspected to contain cashew, a potential undeclared allergen [36].

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland issued an urgent recall warning for a popular product from Spar in July 2021. Customers who bought a batch of the Spar Basil Pesto were at risk as it was mislabeled. The product contained milk, which wasn’t on the list of ingredients on the back of the affected batch [37].

Approaches for addressing food allergies

There are two ways of addressing the allergy issue; one can manufacture the product that is free from the allergen, or alternately, the allergen can be replaced with other ingredients, reducing its allergenicity.

Majority of companies have been taking the first approach for addressing the issue. Even if the allergen is not added to the product, but if the product is suspected to have come in contact with other allergy-causing ingredients, it is rejected and the company makes sure that it does not reach the consumer. Companies are required by law to disclose to the consumer that the allergen-free product has been processed in equipment that has not been used for processing any other allergen-causing food.

Majority of foods that cause allergies are full of nutrients, and therefore they cannot be completely excluded from our diet. Thus, it is necessary to look for ways whereby the allergies from these ingredients can be reduced and they can still be used in our diet. For example, soy milk can replace dairy milk; and with the rise of veganism, animal protein can be replaced with soy protein in vegan products such as burger patty etc.

Approaches to address food allergies

Some consumers may not be able to consume even soy protein, so companies are trying different approaches to address the nutrition problem, some of which are presented below:

nestle-beba

 Nestlé Beba Expert HA (HA Pre Hydrolysed Starting Milk) is suitable for babies from birth. The scientifically tested formula contains omega-3 as well as hydrolyzed protein to address the risk of allergy to milk proteins. It contains Lactic Acid Bacteria (Food Acids, Bacterial Cultures). It can be fed as sole food or complementary food to breastfeeding.

The infant formula is protected by patent US20190246680A1. Nestle has replaced part of cow’s milk protein with potato protein and then fermented the same by using lactic acid bacteria (S. thermophilus ST496 or L. lactis NCC 2415). The samples fermented with S. thermophilus for 4.5 hours and with L. lactis for 11.5 hours had a pleasant sweet yogurt-like taste with no powdery/

sandy mouthfeel or aftertaste, while the unfermented mix had a neutral taste and a slightly powdery/sandy mouthfeel. A low molecular mass potato protein fraction was found to be a better choice as compared to a high molecular mass fraction due to its lower viscosity, milk-like appearance and non-powdery mouth feel. This product was thus made suitable for the consumption of lactose intolerant infants.

neocate

Danone’s Nutricia Neocate Syneo Hypoallergenic Amino Acid-Based Infant Formula is described as a unique blend of ingredients, including dietary fibers. This product is formulated for the dietary management of cows’ milk allergy, multiple food protein allergies, and other conditions where an elemental diet is recommended. It is made without cows’ milk protein, and is suitable for babies from birth on. The ingredients are Dried Glucose Syrup (Dry), Vegetable Oils (Refined) (Palm Oil and/or Medium Chain) Dietary Fibers (oligofructose, inulin), L-arginine, L-aspartic acid, L-leucine, L-lysine acetate, L-glutamine, L-glycine and others.

The product is protected by US10500179B2. The milk allergy problem is addressed by developing a synergy between two amino acids, namely glycine and glutamine. The milk formula contains atleast 60 mg free glycine source per gram with prebiotics and other amino acids to reduce the effect of milk protein allergy. Glutamine synergistically enhances the immunological effect of glycine. The TNFα inhibiting effect was synergistic when the ratio of glycine vs. glutamine was between 0.4 and 2.0.

hypoallergenic-product

Hill’s Ideal Balance No Grain Adult Dog Food with Tuna & Potato contains natural ingredients with added vitamins, minerals and amino acids. The hypoallergenic product contains tuna, which is a lean protein that helps keep fit and slim; peas and potatoes, which are gluten free; carrots and peas; which contain vitamins and minerals; flaxseed, which contains omega-3 and 6; and tomato, which contains antioxidants that support the immune system.

The product is protected by patent no. US20190008186A1, wherein Hills Pet Nutrition has developed a controlled release pet food composition containing fiber, polyphenol and hydrolysed protein, which interact with the GI track of the pet when ingested and decreases allergencity that may be caused by the

use of hydrolyzed proteins. The pet food composition is made by the extrusion of a matrix comprising a high solubility fiber source and low solubility fiber source, and a polyphenol source. A surface coating comprising a palatant is applied to the kibble, whereby the matrix is adapted to deliver the polyphenol source to the lower gastrointestinal (GI) tract of the pet. Thus, in the per food composition, the allergenicity of the compounds are reduced as the fibers and hydrolyzed proteins caused controlled release of the allergy-causing compounds in the gut.

Trends in allergen-free product launches:

Europe and USA witnessed the maximum number of product launches addressing the allergy of food products. During 2019-2022, there were around 25 thousand+ product launches. Europe is the leading geography when it comes to products launched globally for addressing food allergy. Some interesting facts are presented below, based on data retrieved from Mintel-GNPD, a subscription database.

A study of allergan-free food products launched in USA and European countries between 2019 and August 2022, show that Milk, Nuts/tree nuts (17%) and soy-free foods (13%) are the largest categories that address a major threat to their population. There are not many products for addressing allergies due to Mustard (1%) and sulphurdioxide (1%).

study-of-allergan-free-food-products

Most of the products launched for addressing the allergy-causing ingredients are under Snacks (15%), followed by Dairy (9%) and Bakery (8%). There are very few products under Side dishes (3%) and Nutritional Drinks (3%) category for addressing allergy issues.

allergy-causing ingredients

Among the companies that have launched allergen-free products in USA and Europe, Lidl (2%) tops the list with products to address milk allergy, followed by Aldi (1%) and Nestle (1%). Alpro (2%) has the maximum number of products addressing soy allergy, while Nestle (4%) has the maximum number of products to address peanut allergy.

allergen-free-products

The highest number of products have been launched in the USA (21%), especially for addressing allergy caused by Nuts/tree nuts (19%), milk (17%), soy (9%), egg (5%) and peanuts (3%). Among European nations, Spain (8%), Germany (8%) and Italy (8%) have witnessed maximum number of product launches addressing milk allergy, followed by Spain (9%) and the UK (9%) for soy allergy.

addressing-allergy-issue

A few interesting products that were captured from Mintel-GNPD database are as follows:

Human Foods:

Launched under the Bakery category, and Baking Ingredients & Mixes sub-category, Nestle’s Semi-Sweet Morsels is claimed to be free from gluten, peanuts, tree nuts, egg, milk, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish.

nestles-semi-sweet-morsels

 

Launched under the Snacks category, SlimFast’s Real Cheddar Cheese Snack Crisps is claimed to be free from gluten, MSG, artificial sweeteners, and artificial flavors and colors.

slimfasts-real-cheddar-cheese-snack-crisps

 

Launched under the Sugar & Gum Confectionery, and Marshmallows as subcategory, Albert Heijn’s AH Excellent Christmas Marshmallows is claimed to be free from gluten and lactose

albert-heijns-ah-excellent-christmas-marshmallows

 

Launched under the Chocolate Confectionery, and subcategory as Chocolate Tablets, Marks & Spencer’s M&S Food Made without Dairy 55% Cocoa Dark Chocolate is claimed to be free from dairy.

food-made-without-dairy

 

Launched under the Desserts & Ice Cream, and Shelf-Stable Desserts, DM Drogerie Markt’s DM Bio Coconut and Cocoa Dessert is claimed to contain no gluten, lactose, soy or milk protein.

dm-bio-coconut-cocoa-dessert

Pet Foods:

Launched under Dog Snacks and Treats Category, Aldi’s Heart to Tail Pure Being Beef & Cheddar Recipe Grain Free Chewy Dog Treats is claimed to have no meals, grains or fillers, phosphoric acid, potassium chloride, potassium sorbate, propylene glycol or titanium dioxide.

beef-cheddar-recipe-grain-free-chewy-dog-treats

 

Launched under the Dry Cat Food category, Lidl’s Coshida Pure Taste Premium Complete Adult Cat Food with Fish Protein is claimed to be free from cereals, added sugar, artificial colours and preservatives.

premium-complete-adult-cat-food-with-fish-protein

Conclusion:

The growing popularity of Gluten-free bakery products and snacks containing protein and vitamin ingredients is expected to support the expansion of the allergen- free food market [38]. Interestingly, US-based Ready, Set, Food! is following the guidelines of American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which suggest that parents must begin introducing allergens to their baby as early as four months, so that they can outgrow the allergy quickly. Ready, Set, Food!’s three-stage guided system allows families to safely introduce the top food allergens and give their babies a head start on the path to food freedom [39]. Another interesting approach that is gaining momentum is to monitor food allergens through Blockchain Technology, where the consumers have the means of detecting food products contaminated with allergens (even if the label states the opposite) while at the same time alerting the other consumers, organizations and even the producing company. Food companies can be encouraged to participate in the network by citing the extra publicity gained by joining and by the fact that it will be notified in advance that a certain batch might have been contaminated [40].

Acknowledgement:
All the data and images presented in the paper have been sourced from Mintel’s GNPD database.

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Disclaimer:

  • This document has been created for educational and instructional purposes only
  • Copyrighted materials used have been specifically acknowledged
  • We claim the right of fair use as ascertained by the author

Posted Date: September, 2022

AUTHOR

Ms. Srishti Saxena