Food Swab Tests & Rapid Food Tests
I recently had an ‘Ah-hah’ moment while reading a Free2Be cookie box! This epiphany led to some new security about food allergy safe eating that I wanted to share.
I read the cookie box as I usually do, out of habit, even though it says on it “peanut-free”, and is clearly free of the top major food allergens. I like that extra reassurance of reading it each time, and making sure that I fully understand what “peanut-free” means to them, since as you may know, there’s no regulation around claims like this on food labels due to the U.S. food labeling laws being very lax. Luckily, free2be is an amazing brand and in this case, it means it is a peanut-free facility. I started wondering HOW these companies ensure the food items are 100% allergen-free. It gives me anxiety thinking about how I would be able to ensure this food safety to another person, so I wanted to understand where this sense of security came from.
I remembered that I had emailed with the brand Enjoy Life Foods not too long ago, another allergen-free company, to ask this very question: what steps do they take to 100% ensure their customers safety? How do they do it? I went back in my emails to see if they emailed me back, and sure enough, they had!
I’m not sure about Free2Be, or if this is the same across the board for all allergy-free brands, but I would imagine they do what Enjoy Life Foods does, or something similar. It is the same way that the local Top 8 free bakery in my town Annie May’s Sweet Cafe ensures their customers are safe, in addition to not allowing their employees to bring outside-food (to reduce anything that contains allergens from coming into the allergen-free space).
Enjoy Life Foods doesn’t allow outside food to come into the facilities, for one. Then, they perform rapid tests on the raw products they purchase, as well as the finished products. I’m assuming that prior to purchasing the raw products they reach out to the source to find out about if it has come in contact with any of the allergens they are avoiding, etc etc. but they didn’t explicitly explain this step in their response.
I was interested in these tests, so I researched if rapid tests and swab tests were identical, and I have gathered that they aren’t the exact same. They can vary, and are constantly being changed and improved upon. However, their purpose is the same– they’re all checking if there is any allergen residue. Here was my epiphany moment– the fact that companies are doing these food tests is a game-changer because, I imagine, it eliminates the chance of a product recall happening later on. That was my light-bulb moment where I felt like I knew with certainty that the product I was eating was safe and wouldn’t later be deemed un-safe, since they tested it! Very exciting stuff!
I did read articles online that discussed HOW these tests work, and how it’s important for companies to choose the correct test. It discussed some scenarios where something may test as being “a false negative” for peanuts but still contain trace amounts, here’s one 2019 article on Food Safety Tech in case you’re interested in reading it.
The Smell Test You Can Perform At Home
I am always nervous about eating processed foods because of the chance of a recall, but I do trust these “top 8 free” type companies a lot more than, say, other brands that only let me know what is in the facility but aren’t as allergy-conscious. It may sound funny and not trustworthy data, but I do almost always smell my food before I eat it! If you have a food allergy, you may do the same thing already. My nose and sense of smell can be an incredible detector of obvious contamination and higher levels of peanuts in an item. Of course I can’t detect trace amounts the same way a peanut allergy service dog or a individual rapid test can like the Nima portable peanut sensor but it’s steered me in the right direction many times!
I was excited that these tests are a way to prevent food recalls from happening with this upfront testing, because recalls are one of those things that make all the hard-work of vetting a product for being safe still not be 100% accurate. If companies are correctly utilizing these food allergy tests, they would be able to catch it before it’s problematic or deadly, and that’s incredible! Like I’ve stressed in other posts of mine, if you see a practice in place or product you like, I’m a big believer in supporting it with your $, with leaving a good review, with positive feedback, etc etc. So, let’s support companies and businesses doing this food allergy rapid testing!
One disclaimer I want to add, the brand So Delicious Dairy Free is a favorite of mine, they do this testing, but I still personally only trust certain products of theirs that are NOT in a shared facility or on shared equipment as peanuts. This is a personal choice I make because I have read horror stories about customers reacting to their products, even with them taking all the precautions and testing. So, even though the company is testing products that are made on shared equipment as peanuts, I still avoid those because I feel eating anything in the same facility as my allergen is not a risk worth taking. Anytime peanuts are on shared equipment or in a same facility, I don’t take the chance. Personally, I feel the cons outweigh the pros.
I started looking up what other companies utilize food detection tests and was not finding much readily available information online, so I am going to begin emailing and asking companies I use regularly to see if they use any type of safety testing. If not, I’ll recommend that they do and make my recall prevention case. It can’t hurt to ask or make a suggestion. Like anything, I did see that some brands of detection tests can be more accurate than others, and likely that is always going to be an issue, but I believe the more the product is examined and tested for allergens, and labeled accordingly, the better!
Personal Portable Food Sensors & Peanut Detection Dogs
Like I mentioned, there are portable sensors like the Nima portable peanut sensor and other similar products like it on the market! I have not purchased one, but if it ever becomes affordable enough, I could see it as another measure to help stay safe when eating out, traveling, etc. The reason I haven’t rushed to buy one yet and the hurdle I see with these products is that you still have to purchase the food/ingredients first to take a sampling from it. I haven’t been in a scenario where I would want to purchase food from a restaurant and then use this on it after, but I could see it being used on food my friends and family make for me that I still feel iffy about, when traveling, or even to test raw ingredients if you can’t find something that is labeled or where the company will disclose the allergens in the facility! So I’m not saying it’s a hard no, I bet I’ll get one, eventually. It could absolutely prevent a life-threatening reaction, and that is AMAZING.
In terms of peanut detection dogs, this was something I looked into and if anyone knows otherwise, please correct me if I’m wrong! I have a beagle and was curious if this may be an option to train an animal to detect peanut ingredients, and while it is an option, it’s my understanding based on the research I’ve done that the animal has to be trained regularly with the allergen, to then be able to sniff it. I keep peanut products as far away from my house and my dog as I can, to limit my chance of reaction from cross-contact, so I couldn’t figure out logistically how exposing the dog to my severe allergen often would work. Not to mention, these dogs can cost upwards of 10,000 according to the American Kennel Club. Not a huge amount though for a large sense of security. The AKC website states, “However, it can be impossible for people to detect minute traces of peanuts. Dogs on the other hand, with their superior sense of smell, can successfully tackle the task. Just as a dog can be trained for explosive or bedbug detection, he also can be trained to sniff for the presence of peanuts and peanut products. For some people with a severe peanut allergy, these peanut detection dogs are proving to be invaluable.” So this is a very cool option and something I may look into more in the future if I feel I need to!
As much as I want to get to the root of why peanut allergies and food allergies in general are soaring, and find a cure, these types of products are great to see in the meantime!