By Anthony Huggett, Head of Quality Management at Nestlé
My wife and I were recently enjoying a nice evening out when we heard a woman’s piercing shriek. We looked over to see that her son, who looked no older than 5 years old, had turned crimson red – struggling to breathe, his face swollen. I rushed to help, but the mother was faster. She grabbed what looked like a tube from her purse and jabbed it into the child’s leg. In no time, she was on the phone, calling for an ambulance. The mother quickly recomposed herself, a clear sign that she had been through similar incidents before.
As we waited for the ambulance, the mother pointed out that the restaurant was responsible for listing ingredients known to cause food allergies – in that case, eggs. By the time the ambulance had arrived, the child’s breathing had returned to normal, but it was difficult for anyone – my wife and I included – to get back to their evening.
Food allergies all too common
This episode serves as a stark reminder of the importance of allergen management programs – it is also a gripping illustration of how badly things can go when those are poorly enforced.
Chances are you know someone with a food allergy or have a food allergy yourself. Estimates indicate that up to 5% of the world’s population suffers from a food allergy, and that nearly 8% (or 1 in 13) of children do. Of those with a food allergy, twenty percent have experienced a life-threatening allergic episode.
Food safety is non-negotiable. Consumers have a right to expect that the food they consume does no harm to their health, that of their friends and family – this thinking provides the baseline for everything we do.
A systematic and holistic approach
At Nestlé, we abide by strict allergen management protocols along our entire value chain: whenever possible, we design our products to be free of major allergens; we source raw ingredients from companies with validated allergen-control programs; we enforce in all our factories comprehensive allergen-cleaning programs and store allergen-containing materials separately from other materials; finally, we clearly label our products to inform consumers of allergens potentially present in our products.
Incorrect labelling is the main cause of allergy-related food incidents. That is why we leverage automated technology such as high-speed cameras and barcode readers to prevent and identify any potential allergen-related defects along different points of our design, manufacturing and distribution processes. These high-speed cameras and barcode readers typically scan a UPC code or color code scheme on the packaging to verify the label is correct.
Harnessing new technology
We constantly strive to improve our production processes by investing in new digital technologies. For example, we have co-developed software that can quickly scan a label or an e-commerce website to verify that the allergen information displayed is correct. We have embedded this technology into our production process: we use it to screen labels for any inaccuracies both at the design stage and when applying labels onto products at our factories.
Nestlé applies the same rigorous preventive approach to not only allergens but to all food safety hazards. Whether at a restaurant, birthday party, or at home, food brings us together and elevates our experiences. Consumers everywhere can trust that Nestlé provides food that is safe – so that they can focus on their enjoyment.