Going Gluten-FreeDecember 10, 2014

Understanding the Manufacturing of Allergen Friendly Foods

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Posted by Erica Dermer

While at the Food Allergy and Celiac Convention at Walt Disney World, I had a chance to listen to the “From Start to Cart” presentation with Joel Warady, the CMO from Enjoy Life Foods. You’re probably familiar with his brand. You might have seen them on the grocery-store shelves, or at one of the Gluten Free & More Magazine Gluten Free Food Allergy fests throughout the country last year. They make Top-8-Free foods, or “allergy friendly” foods. They never use the term “allergy free” because someone can always be allergic to one of the ingredients in the products, even if it’s not in the “top 8” most frequent allergens. They were the first brand to get GFCO certified from the Gluten Intolerance Group. They are a big brand that’s very well known in the food-allergy space, but what all goes into that?

While I come from a business background, but I really disliked supply chain management and thinking about how a product is made from start to shelf. I was always more concerned about getting the product from the shelf into the hands of people who needed it. However, now, as a consumer that is so concerned with how her food is made, and what her food is made with, I should really start to care. Here are a few pieces from the presentation that I think are incredibly important to know about a company you support with your hard-earned dollars.

1. They listen to their consumers
Enjoy Life Foods brand is consumer-focused – they continue to ask the consumers many questions and develop products based on the needs in the community. When asked their top reasons to purchase Enjoy Life Foods products, the top reason was that they were gluten-free. Dairy-free products, and no artificial ingredients in the products followed – a very telling of the changing needs of allergic and mindful consumers. Enjoy Life Foods products are also Non-GMO Project Verified, which is the 5th top reason why consumers purchase their products. Four years ago, however, people’s demand for non-GMO items wasn’t even on the radar – Enjoy Life Foods adapted to changing consumer demands.

2. They deeply care about testing for allergens/allergen safety
While I know the basics of the GFCO gluten-free 20ppm testing, I really had no idea what went into testing for everyday testing that brands do for allergens outside of gluten. Enjoy Life Foods tests all finished goods for all of the allergens. They have their own lab in the facility as well as 3rd party labs. They test their products by outside labs every single week.

Enjoy Life Foods products are free of the Top 8 allergens and their facility is gluten-free and a nut-free facility. They realize that peanut allergies and tree-nut allergies can cause anaphylaxis and death, and therefore are very important to avoid in the facility as a whole. However, they never claim to have a dedicated dairy and soy free facility – but test diligently for those allergens. For example, their chocolate bars are made in a separate facility that has dairy, but the bars have their own line in Enjoy Life Foods’ own room. If the product tests above 2ppm (the lowest test available), they will quarantine the shipment.

They also retain samples of all of their products for 15 months. If at any time someone calls up about a possible reaction, they will pull the sample from the lot and send it out to test. In 12 years, Joel stated that they have never had an allergen in a product, but they treat each complaint as if it could be the first time. This is the kind of safety I want in my products.

3. They preach quality assurance
As you might have seen in the news, the number one reason for food recalls today is undeclared allergens. This is really scary for the consumer, and also scary for any manufacturer! Enjoy Life Foods demands 100% quality assurance (QA) acceptance, and 100% investigations of incidence of ill health and injury. This isn’t always an easy task. The suppliers they buy from are not all allergen free so they test the ingredients that come into the facility before they ever make it past the back door. They can also trace by lot number for every ingredient in the manufacturing process. They make sure that no allergens come into the facility from personnel by dedicated in-house training and open communication.

4. They believe in advocacy
Yes, it’s great that we can get products that taste great and that won’t make us sick. That’s key to anything I put in my shopping cart. But I also look for those brands that go beyond my kitchen and into my heart. Enjoy Life Foods is one of many food-allergy friendly brands that support non-profits in our community like FARE, CDF, NFCA, GIG, Autism Speaks, and Non-GMO Project Verified.

5. They believe in innovation
At this point in the presentation, Joel glanced at me and told me not to write anything else down. All I can tell you is that they are bringing some pretty interesting things to market in the next few years. And that’s part of what makes ELF great. I remember when they launched the Decadence bars and when they launched Plentils. I can’t wait to see what’s next from them – and that’s why I love the gluten-free marketplace; it’s always innovating!

We, as consumers, must support retailers and manufacturers that recognize the importance of allergen-friendly food made right. Enjoy Life Foods is only one of the many fantastic food-allergy friendly brands out there doing the right thing when it comes to manufacturing safe products for us. Next time you stare at the gluten-free products on the shelves at your local grocery store, think about how much time and effort it took to safely bring that product to you – and I bet that your first bite is going to taste that much sweeter!

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