The new requirement identifies eight foods or food groups as the major food allergens: milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans. The foods account for roughly 90 per cent of all food allergies.
Keeping these ingredients separate in a multi-product plant will mean extra costs for processors.
The rule would require processors that produce foods containing one or more of the eight major allergens to have a written allergen control plan.
The plan must address the training of processing and supervisory personnel.
It must also address the segregation of food allergens during storage and handling, validated cleaning procedures for food contact equipment, the prevention of cross-contact during processing, a product label review and label usage, and a supplier control program for ingredients and labels.
The requirements are set out in a notice published by the agriculture department's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which is holding a public consultation up until 7 July.
The requirements came into effect at the start of this year under the Allergenicity and the Food Allergen and Consumer Protection Act of 2004.
The act amends the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to require processors to declare any ingredient that is or contains protein from a "major food allergen".
FSIS is responsible for the ensuring compliance under the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) and the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA).
The regulations refer to preventing the processing and distribution of meat and poultry products that are "unwholesome, adulterated, or misbranded, or otherwise unfit for human food."
Under the acts, all ingredients used to formulate a meat, poultry, or egg product must be declared in the statement on the product labeling. A product is misbranded under the acts when it contains ingredients that are permitted but are not declared on the labeling.
The acts require processors to use international standards, known collectively as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) procedures, to take preventive and corrective measures during food production, at stages where food safety hazards are reasonably likely to occur. The Pathogen Reduction regulations outlines further requirements.
The regulations requires meat and poultry processors to reassess the adequacy of its HACCP plan at least annually.
Plants that have already put controls in place, including separate handing areas and lines need not give special consideration to such ingredients in their next annual reassessment, FSIS stated.
Plants must ensure that only the ingredients to be used in a product are available at the time of production. The list of the ingredients must match the ingredient list on the label. Records must be available for inspection to verify that the proper ingredients were used.
The agency's inspectors personnel will verify that plants have the system in place.
A reaction to an allergen is caused proteinaceous foods acting as an antigen to the human immune system. The reactions can be severe, and lead to death..