Somewhere between 2% and 9% of the US population suffers from some form of allergy, no less than 30.000 of them require emergency room treatment and about 150 people die from allergic reactions to food every year.
We all know that the average consumer does not produce his or her own food, but rely on produce purchased from grocery stores, markets and other commercial food providers. Trustworthy food labeling is then also a lifeline for allergy sufferers. Every individual with allergen will study (that’s a bit more than reading) packaging labels before purchasing a product, when the labeling indicates that the product is safe he or she will consume the said product, purely based on trust.
Problem is that a minimal exposure to an allergen can cause an allergic reaction and do serious harm to an individual and the labeling requirements only talk about ‘major’ allergen. With that, hidden allergens, often caused by cross contamination, are left unexposed and an allergy sufferer can still fall sick after consuming a specific product.
Not only is buying food a concern for allergy sufferers, handling and processing food at home is another, a vacuum sealer can lend an important helping hand, let’s see how.
How trustworthy is the labeling information and how do so many people, of which most know they are allergic to certain products, still end up in the ER.
The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act, which took effect January 1, 2006, mandates that labels of food containing major food allergens (milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat and soy) declare the allergen in plain language either in the ingredient list or via:
Such ingredients must be listed if they are present in any amount, even in colors, flavors or spice blends used.
As mentioned, minimal exposure to an allergen can cause serious harm to individuals.
Farmers growing multiple crops, one with and one without gluten for example, that are processed using the same machines or are stored in the same storage space, may deliver a cross contaminated product to a processing plant.
Even if crops with and without gluten is grown on alternate years, some gluten containing volunteer plants are good enough to contaminate the gluten free crop.
This form of cross contamination is impossible to detect and very sensitive allergen sufferers has to resort to certified allergen free products.
Under HACCP regulations, all allergen products need to be labeled upon receiving and stored in an again labeled separated storage place away from other ingredients.
Products that contain allergen ingredients are to be processed on given days and a specific cleaning process has to be carried out after processing, then only non-allergen products can be produced in the same machines.
HACCP certified suppliers are therefore safer than non –certified producers, but careful reading of ingredients lists remains a must for allergen sufferers.
A recently, with celiac disease diagnosed patient tells his dietician that, even though he follows a strict diet, he still experiences gastrointestinal discomfort a few times a week.
Going step by step through his daily routine, the dietician finds that he toasts his gluten free bread in the same toaster as the other family members.
The patient claimed that he always cleans the toaster before use, but that precaution is not enough, one kernel of gluten containing bread is enough to cause cross contamination.
After using a new toaster for his gluten free bread only, his GI problems disappear.
Cross contamination is a serious problem for allergen suffers especially those who live together with family members who have no allergies.
All common kitchen tools and utensils (colanders, chopping boards, ladles and prep surfaces) can easily cause cross contamination. Extreme caution needs to be applied, not everybody is that careful every day and cross use of utensils and tools happens easily.
To avoid cross contamination an allergy patient may want to designate one day per week to prepare his or her food with allocated uncontaminated tools and utensils.
Vacuum the food produced and then labels it accordingly.
This is a perfect way to avoid cross contamination and to enjoy allergen free meals, without getting discomfort from cross-contamination.
Question arises if a vacuum sealer will have the ability to cross contaminate food as well.
Answer: Chances are slim, unless you are very careless.
When designated tools and utensils are used and the cooked food is transferred to a vacuum bag, the vacuum sealer (if also used by other family members) only touches the outside of the vacuum bag, whatever is inside the bag will not be affected, even if there is some allergen residue on the sealer strip.
Labeling the product is important, especially when products become unrecognizable after freezing. A permanent marker pen is a good tool for labeling vacuum bags.
Allergies are in many cases only controllable not curable, a vacuum sealer is therefore a worthwhile investment for allergen sufferers to avoid cross contamination at home.
Find your vacuum sealer here:
By: Marinus Hoogendoorn