Spotting “Hidden” Allergens

“Hidden” has multiple meanings and each is equally important to understand to identify top allergens and communicate ingredients to customers.

May 16
In the U.S., the top 9 major allergens are wheat, egg, soy, dairy, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, and sesame. These allergens can be obvious—like sunny eggs on toast or a Thai peanut sauce—or “hidden” within a long list of sauce ingredients that contains, for example, casein (milk) as a protein source.

Multiple Meanings

“Hidden” has multiple meanings and each is equally important to understand to identify top allergens and communicate ingredients to customers.
  • Allergens listed under different names than commonly known
  • Allergens present in small amounts that are not included on a label, unless required by law
  • Cross-contact with allergens on a manufacturing line, or in a kitchen with shared-utensils or equipment
  • Allergens beyond the top 9
Learning how to search for hidden allergens is important as more and more people are avoiding certain ingredients.

Gain Clarity on Hidden Allergens

There are a few key steps to take to gain clarity about “hidden” allergens

Create clear and consistent allergen documentation

Ask suppliers to document “contains” and “may contains” allergen statements with a corresponding ingredient statement in accordance U.S. allergen labeling laws. This information should ideally include cross-contact or the potential for cross-contact in the manufacturing facility.

Operators can request the info in a standardized format for every ingredient regardless of the ingredient’s complexity. Allergen information beyond the top 9 allergens can be requested too, to meet guests’ needs. P.F. Chang’s identifies corn, onions, sulphites, and mushrooms as allergens. It’s a red flag if a supplier is unwilling or cannot provide requested information.

Understand labeling language

Often allergens will be present in ingredients under different names. For example, casein is a milk protein, tahini is the name for sesame paste, kamut is a grain that contains wheat, and miso is made from fermented soybean. Suppliers should have in-depth understanding of ingredient nomenclature and U.S. labeling laws to create clear and accurate ingredient and allergen information. Restaurants and staff should also have this knowledge to be able to identify food allergens. Taco Bell provides ingredients on its website to helps consumers make informed decisions about its menu.

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U.S. ingredient labeling rules require food manufactures to list the ingredients within the ingredients, in most cases. For example, a caramel sauce should include ingredients within the ingredient such as butter, sugar, milk, and salt. But in the case of spices, not every ingredient is required to be listed. Restaurants should request additional information related to ingredients and allergens from the supplier if the label is unclear. Don’t make assumptions.

Identify cross-contact sources

Shared fryer oil, shared equipment and utensils, and tight storage conditions are all potential sources of cross-contact with allergens. Identify the risk areas when you develop a recipe and preparation procedures. Olive Garden identifies certain areas of allergen cross contact within its allergen information.