MenuTrinfo’s ‘Certified Free From’ Label: An Assurance in Allergen-Free Dining

MenuTrinfo’s ‘Certified Free From’ Label: An Assurance in Allergen-Free Dining

Betsy Craig, CEO and founder of MenuTrinfo, spoke to Xtalks about the company’s ‘Certified Free From’ label and the rigorous certification standards food companies must adhere to in order to receive the label. Photos courtesy of MenuTrinfo.

In the US, the primary agency responsible for regulating allergen labeling on food products is the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA established the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA), which requires that food labels clearly identify the food source names of any ingredients that contain any protein derived from the nine most common food allergens.

While this act is intended to make it easier for consumers with food allergies to identify potential allergens in the products they purchase, many believe it falls short. That’s why private organizations, like MenuTrinfo, have established their own certification programs to indicate that certain food products are free from specific allergens. 

These certifications are often sought by food manufacturers to assure consumers about the safety of their products for those with food allergies, intolerances and special dietary requirements. Xtalks spoke to Betsy Craig, CEO and founder of MenuTrinfo, to find out how the company certifies products and where government regulations fall short.

Related: Sesame Allergies Cause FDA to List Sesame as the 9th Major Allergen

The Rigorous Certification Standards

MenuTrinfo operates a heavily vetted ‘Certified Free From‘ scheme with standards that have raised the bar for allergen-free products. This label is pivotal for consumers, especially in an age where ambiguous claims have clouded product labeling.

MenuTrinfo’s certification scheme covers an exhaustive list of over 100 manufacturing points for a consumer packaged goods (CPG) brand to earn the seal for their products. But how does this differ from government-set standards? The simple answer is that while the certification aligns with the FDA’s definition of what constitutes an allergen, it goes beyond just recognizing them. The ‘Certified Free From’ recognizes the same nine major US allergens as the FDA.

Verification and Ongoing Surveillance

“We rely on an in person focused audit and detailed inspection of the allergen management program, including current Good Manufacturing Procedures (cGMP’s), supplier and ingredient vetting, receiving, labeling, storage, processing, sanitation and cleaning verification through ongoing surveillance, which includes allergen-specific testing and monthly reports,” Craig said.

These are not just one-off inspections, either. The brand emphasizes on the necessity for continuous surveillance and every outlet undergoes frequent and quantified testing based on the allergen risk it poses.

Mitigating Cross-Contamination with MenuTrinfo

One of the most pertinent concerns for anyone with allergies is the potential for cross-contamination. The ‘Certified Free From’ seal addresses this by mandating that an outlet or manufacturing facility implements a robust and verified allergen control plan. It’s not enough for the facility to just be free from allergens during production; an all-encompassing allergen control strategy must be in place to counteract any potential sources of allergens.

“It basically comes down to allergens in the facility, and whether they are being controlled in each facet of the manufacturing process,” Craig said. “The entire facility may be free from allergens for production, but a fully implemented allergen control plan is still required to mitigate any other possibilities or sources of allergens.”

Bridging the Gaps in Government Regulations

The general public often finds itself navigating a plethora of vague claims like “Dairy-Free” or “Allergen Friendly.” Such soft claims, along with the numerous variations of precautionary allergen labeling statements (PALS), make choices complex for consumers. MenuTrinfo’s certification aims to clear the haze with its simple approach that demands verification, consistent testing and regular monitoring.

The comparison to the certified gluten-free seal is apt. Just as consumers have learned to look for this certification when buying gluten-free products, the ‘Certified Free From’ seal is set to provide a similar beacon of trust for those shopping for allergen-free items.

“With our groundbreaking leading certification, it is much clearer,” Craig noted. “We go to the facility.  We require allergen claims to be verified. We require ongoing testing and proof of that testing. We require ongoing surveillance.”

Furthermore, while government regulations have certainly made strides, with the most recent updates in the food code as of December 29th, 2022, there are still gaps. Notably, the government has yet to establish clear thresholds for allergens, though there are hopes for progress based on the recent reports from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations’ (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Consumer Reception and Impact

Since its inception, the ‘Certified Free From’ label has been met with enthusiasm from consumers. Not only does it instill an extra layer of trust in products and dining establishments, but it also empowers manufacturers with clarity, reducing recalls and preventing events that could tarnish their reputation.

“Getting the word out there about our seal has been just beginning with more and more brands and retailers looking to ‘Certified Free From’ as a solution to a long-term challenge,” Craig said. “Additionally, manufactures gain clarity and can cut down on recalls due to allergens, thus preventing reputation damaging events.”

MenuTrinfo’s ‘Certified Free From’ certification is more than just a label. It is an initiative that stands at the intersection of consumer safety and industry transparency, paving the way for a safer, more informed marketplace.