Towards "Certified Allergen Control"!
by Claire Dufresne, Executive director, Association québécoise des allergies alimentaires
Editor's Note: The AQAA is a non-profit association founded in 1990 by a group of Quebec parents with food allergic children. Its mission is to offer support and information, promote education and prevention and encourage research into food allergies and anaphylaxis. The AAIA congratulates the AQAA for the work they have done on this innovative certification programme, which we have agreed to support.
The biggest challenge for food allergic people is to be able to purchase food products with a total peace of mind.
A recent Quebec study has revealed that 29% of allergic consumers will pay attention to allergen substances every time they go grocery shopping!
Another study, sponsored by a multinational food company in 2001, confirmed that more than half of Quebec consumers are likely to modify their consuming habits, at one point or another, because they know one or more persons who are allergic to peanuts or nuts!
However, with no known official certification process, many companies prefer not to take any chances and will indicate on their packaging that the product "may contain traces of peanuts... or other allergens", even if, in reality, the risks are unknown. Allergic consumers are then deprived of many products. Even more worrisome, those same allergic people interpret these increasingly popular warnings as a way for the companies to protect themselves from potential lawsuits. More and more, the warning signs are considered commonplace and allergic consumers are brought to overlook them and will use products that they should logically avoid.
For the past two years, AQAA has worked on developing an original and ambitious project for the overall Canadian food industry, a Certification Programme for Optimal Control of Allergens in Processed Food.
The primary objective is to work on the allergens affecting the most people such as peanuts, almonds, eggs and milk proteins.
The Certification Programme principle is based on a voluntary process from the companies. A mark of conformity on the certified products will guarantee consumers that the best possible allergen control criteria, defined by the AQAA certification model, have been respected.
Companies interested in the Certification Programme will have to follow rigorous control and analysis measures and accept, by contract, the conditions for using the mark of conformity.
In a situation where about 7% of Quebec families have at least one person with one or more food allergies, the "Certified Allergen Control" mark of conformity will appear as a powerful marketing tool for food products.
Managing the use of the mark of conformity will be based on specifications elaborated in cooperation, among others, with representatives from volunteer companies, Health Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Bureau de normalisation du Québec (member of the Standards Council of Canada).
A team from AQAA will be in charge of managing the Certification Programme. Control visits will be assigned to an external auditor, the Bureau de normalisation du Québec. In fact, the certified food products will show the mark of conformity with a notification for the allergen from which they are specifically controlled.
The Certification Programme for Optimal Control of Allergens in Processed Food has been officially announced and several products have been certified. Watch for the Logo!
from Allergy & Asthma News, Issue 1 2005