If you've ever had the unpleasant experience of puffing up like a blowfish after eating a food that didn't agree with your immune system, then you know how important food labeling can be. That's why President Bush in August signed into law the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act, a piece of legislation that requires all eight major food allergensmilk, egg, peanut, tree nut, fish, shellfish, wheat and soyto be clearly indicated in plain English on food packages.
Food makers, in the rush to meet the deadline of January 1, 2006 for compliance, are turning to technology to aid their efforts. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration already requires that all ingredients be listed precisely in order of predominance, but the FALCP Act will add to that the chore of detecting minute quantities of allergy proteins in spices, flavorings, additives and food colorings, and listing those allergens prominently on the label.
Herb Rau, director of quality at Barber Foods, a supplier of chicken specialty products, has rolled out product lifecycle management software from Formation Systems Inc. to help ensure compliance, tracking the minutia of the food's chemical makeup throughout the development process. Barber's frozen Chicken Cordon Bleu product, for example, has several dozen ingredients and subingredients that are endlessly tinkered with by food scientists.
While replacing the old manual system of ingredient tracking with software is expensive, Rau says it sure beats the alternative. "It is very painful when you have a recall. That's when it gets really expensive."