Katarina's Law: Mandatory labeling of food processed on equipment shared with allergens

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Due to unclear labeling language and regulations, the food allergic pediatric population of the United States is left vulnerable to ingesting allergens that cause life-threatening reactions. Food manufacturers often share equipment with allergens or create other cross-contamination possibilities with processed food and allergenic ingredients without having to label this on their packaging. The pediatric populations is often unable to verbalize the fact that they are experiencing an allergic reaction and end up in the emergency room - this experience creates trauma, anxiety and stress for the children and their families. Additionally, this creates a financial burden for food-allergic children and the taxpayers. Creating clear language on food labels indicating that food may have come in contact with allergens (EX: coconut oil and peanut oil are often bottled in the same facility on shared equipment) can save lives, save tax payer money and reduce anxiety among food allergic children and their families. 


Our (and your) Reason:

Our happy nine-month old Katarina took a little spoonful of baby yogurt, smiled, and leaned in for more. I happily obliged, took pictures of her big, yogurt-covered smile and spooned out some more. Five minutes into eating she began to cough, whimper, and suddenly became very quiet. Within seven minutes she was vomiting, screaming for air, turning blood red all over her body except her face, which had taken on a light blue color – she was in full-blown anaphylaxis. This event left an impression on me, and I know this story resonates with many other food-allergy parents. We do our best to keep our children safe and protect them from danger – but what if that danger is hidden in your child’s food? What if it is a danger that is unseen and you, as the protector of your child, are unable to determine if what your child is eating is safe? For many food allergic children and adults, this decision is a choice between life and an allergic reaction potentially resulting in death – and a traumatic one if you have witnessed your child go through an event like this.

The Issue:

The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) requires manufacturers of food products to clearly label major food allergens – milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat and soy – in the ingredients list. FALCPA does not require manufacturers to list these allergens if the product is made on equipment or manufacturing lines with an allergen, trace amounts of allergen are present due to manufacturing process or, if allergen is present due to other forms of cross-contamination – such as transportation with an allergen (EX: loose flour and ground peanut). THIS MEANS YOU HAVE AN ALLERGEN INGREDIENT IN THE FOOD BUT DO NOT KNOW ABOUT IT. Often manufacturers utilize the same equipment, facility and transportation for allergenic ingredients as they do for their non-allergenic products. Yet the manufacturers are not required by law to list they share the equipment and that there is a risk of cross-contamination with an allergen. Children, especially young children who do not yet have the capability to verbalize as adults, are at risk because they cannot articulate if they are experiencing a reaction to a specific food.

 Speak out for our children – require manufacturers to list advisory labels when allergens are present!!!

-       Mandatory labeling of shared equipment with allergens

-       Mandatory labeling if there is a risk of cross-contamination with allergens

-       Mandatory labeling if there are trace amounts of an allergen in the product

 How many anaphylactic reactions do our food allergic children have to experience before the law changes?

 How many of our children have to die each year before laws are put into place to protect this vulnerable population? Even the tiniest trace amounts of a particular food allergen, in a seemingly innocent food, can trigger anaphylaxis in a food allergic child (Nienstadt p.597).

 When Katarina was about a year old, we slathered coconut oil on her back to help her eczema – as we often did. The next morning she woke with a blood soaked pajama top. Horrified, I realized she had clawed her back raw until it bled. I did not understand, she was not allergic to coconut, what happened? Later, we discovered she was severely allergic to peanuts (along with dairy and egg). Although it was not listed on the bottle, the coconut oil must have been manufactured on the same bottling equipment as peanut oil. This is very common with coconut oil manufacturers and (thankfully) many of them have begun to list advisories such as, “Made in a facility that also bottles peanut oil.” I do not want to imagine what would have happened had we had cooked a family meal with that particular coconut oil and served it to our allergic child …

 **Demand manufacturers do due diligence in listing all allergen ingredients in all aspects of their manufacturing and sign and share our petition!**

The Facts & Quick Stats:

- Each year, approximately 150-200 Americans, primarily children, die from food-induced anaphylactic shock (Derr 2006 p.1). That is roughly 12 to 16 individuals a month.

- The tiniest trace amount of an allergen can cause death in a food allergic individual, “as little as one fifth to one-five-thousandths of a teaspoon has been demonstrated to cause death” - such as the case of a 15 year old peanut allergic teenager who died after kissing her boyfriend after he had consumed a peanut butter snack (Deer 2006 p.1).

 Every three minutes someone is rushed to the emergency room for a food related allergic reaction (Nienstadt p.597).

-       Research reflects a 124% increase in food-related anaphylaxis, with the greatest increase seen among children (Motosue, et al p.1).

-       Additionally, 8% of children are affected with incurable food allergies, making food allergies one of the fastest growing public health concerns (Broome et al 2015 p.1).

 The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Recalls, Market Withdrawals & Safety Alerts Database shows a steady increase in foods being recalled due to undisclosed allergens

-       Mislabeled products, cross-contamination due to foods being processed on shared equipment with allergens, or foods not clearly indicating which allergenic ingredients are in the product.

 These statistics necessitate policy change!!!!

         My Research:

There is a strong, positive correlation between the number of pediatric emergency department visits for food-induced anaphylaxis and the number of food recalls in the FDA database for products with undeclared allergens not listed on the ingredients label during the 2007-2012 timeframe. Further research is necessary to determine the extent of the relationship between these emergency visits and FDA recalls.

-       Trends in emergency and hospital care also reflect an increase of food-triggered anaphylaxis emergency department visits among the pediatric population.

-       These trends give pause to many policy areas – the strain on the medical community, the financial burden on the public, and most importantly, the affect on the health and quality of life for the pediatric community and their families experiencing these distressful situations.

-       Pearson’s r correlation SPSS output reflects a strong correlation between FDA recalls and pediatric emergency room visits