Back in 2017, looking for an exciting new category for the 2017 FreeFrom Food Awards, we took a risk and launched a category for products that contained none of the top 14 food allergens as defined by EU.
We expected to get about 5 entries but thought it was worth giving it a try. In the event, to our amazement and delight, we got closer to 35…. Who knew that there were so many products out there free of so many of the major allergens.
(To remind any of you who just might have forgotten, they are:
- Cereals containing gluten (including wheat, barley, rye and oats)
- Milk and milk products
- Tree nuts
The category became established and we have repeated it each year since. But it has always been dogged by two issues.
Gluten free oats
The law obliges us to exclude products containing gluten-free oats because oats are listed as one of the top 14 allergens – even though 95% of freefrom consumers are concerned about oats from a gluten perspective rather than an allergen one. I will post on this aspect very soon but for the purposes of our No Top 14 category, it meant that we had to exclude products that were free of the other 13 allergens but did include gluten free oats.
The individuality of allergy
Allergy reactors (people who have allergic reactions to certain foods) are very varied. Someone who is anaphylactic to milk, soya, eggs and is gluten intolerant may well be able to eat peanuts and nuts. So peanut puffs which include nothing else but peanuts and are high in protein, are an excellent freefrom food for them. Similarly, someone who is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, milk, soya and eggs may be totally fine with gluten and with all cereals. So wheat, barley, rye and oat-based products will provide them with valuable and nutritious additions to their daily diet.
But sticking firmly to the legal ‘top 14’ list meant that we could not be flexible enough to include any of those much needed products, no matter how excellent their freefrom credentials might otherwise be. So what to do….
Reviewing the criteria
Along with our relaunch this year, we did an in depth review of all our categories and we decided that, as far as the No Top 14 went, maybe we needed to think outside the legal box. So, where did this list of 14 actually come from?
It is in fact an arbitrary group of foods, drawn up by European Food Safety Authority. It is based on 20 years worth of research around Europe to try to discover which foods caused most allergic reactions in most people. It is neither a definitive nor an exclusive list of food allergens – and is more or less relevant depending on where in Europe you are. (For example, very few people UK suffer from celery allergy.)
Not everyone agrees that these 14 were the right foods to include. Others believe that the list should have been longer and should include kiwi and/or other foods such as peas/legumes that are now being widely used as alternatives and to which an increasing number of allergy reactors are reacting.
Stepping outside the box
We therefore decided that for the purposes of the FreeFrom Food Awards No Top 14 category, while our ban on PAL (may contain warnings) would remain, we would actually increase the number of allergens on the list to 15 – but that entrants would only have to exclude 14 of them.
This means that, in the examples above, the peanut puff would be eligible to enter as it was free of all the other 14 allergens on the list. Similarly, a product using gluten free oats but free of the other 14 could also enter.
At the same time this allowed us to reach out to the increasing numbers of those reacting to another allergen which appeared to be causing wide spread problems.
So, why did we choose peas/chickpeas as our 15th allergen? For no hard and fast reason (and we might well change it or add a different allergen next year) except that our social media interactions suggest that peas/chickpeas are becoming a serious problem for many with multiple allergies. So identifying and celebrating wheat free products which do not automatically turn to pea or chickpea as a substitute could be really helpful for the multiple allergy reacting community.
Taking the law into our own hands?
We were slightly concerned that the freefrom community might think we were being somewhat high handed here and taking the law into our own hands. But we are really not. This is just a category in a set of awards. We are not asking anyone to change the law – just trying to make the category more inclusive both for the freefrom industry and for the consumer.
Readers’ comments would be very welcome…..