There’s an app for avoiding food allergens


During this Food Allergy Awareness Week, May 10-16,2020, the buzz among many of the 32 million Americans who suffer from food allergies is a new app.

It’s the product of Whystle, a company founded by Lauren Bell, a former federal prosecutor, and mother of four. Her job at the U.S. Department of Justice was prosecuting companies for unsafe products. That experience got her thinking about the need for an app that provides personalized safety information and up-to-the-minute recall notices, especially for up-to-date allergen recalls.

Every three minutes, food allergy reactions send someone to the emergency room.

The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) in the United States requires the Food and Drug Administration to name “major allergens, which must be specifically declared on product labeling.

That’s so people with allergies and the parents of children with allergies can identify the products they or their children need to avoid. The “major” allergens, currently are milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans. But the system is far from foolproof.

Food manufacturers make hundreds of mistakes a year by failing to accurately list allergens on their labels. When that happens, the mislabeled food is recalled. That means those who are susceptible to anaphylactic reactions must pour over recall notices on a continuing basis or risk a trip to the ER.

Science has few answers for those who experience allergenic reactions, other than to completely avoid whatever causes it. And since food allergens are common and often used as ingredients, avoidance is often not a successful strategy.

The app by Whystle is a new tool that delivers personalized allergy alerts.

For example, the device recently let Amanda Milam in Arlington, VA, know about a packaging mistake by Ritz Crackers that put cheese crackers on the shelf that included but did not declare peanut butter as an ingredient

Ritz cheese crackers without peanut butter are a product Milam purchased for her son who has life-threatening allergic reactions to several foods, including peanuts. Ritz’s packaging mistake might have turned into a tragedy were it not for the timely notice from the app.

“Whystle has been so helpful reporting all food contaminations,” says Milan.

An estimated 200,000 people nationwide require medical care for life-threatening food allergies each year, reports Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), a nonprofit advocacy group for people with food allergies.

“As the mother of three young children with life-threatening food allergies, we are forced to put our trust in food product labels and practice our due diligence each time to put an item into our shopping cart,” says Ally Goff Martin of Richmond, VA. “Unfortunately, food manufacturers continue to fail us on a regular basis, and we are left to suffer the consequences, which in my care are life-threatening. As parents, we should not have to carry the burden of food manufacturers’ mistakes.”

Undeclared allergens last year again dominated food recalls, according to data compiled by FDA and USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

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