Food allergies and intolerances are becoming increasingly common, and it’s important for you and your team to be aware of the challenges associated with them. This will enable you to better advise your customers and create a more inclusive shopping experience. In this blog, we’ll provide you with a brief overview of food allergies and intolerances, the allergens in our chocolate, and additional resources you can use to stay informed.
The Difference Between Food Allergies and Intolerances
Firstly, it’s helpful to understand the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance. A food allergy is a reaction that affects the immune system, and even a tiny amount of the offending food can trigger a range of symptoms, including severe and potentially life-threatening ones. Common allergy symptoms can include gut reactions, such as abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhoea; skin reactions, such as itching and swelling; and respiratory reactions, such as runny nose, sneezing, and wheezing. In contrast, a food intolerance affects the digestive system and is less severe than an allergy, but can still cause discomfort and leave the sufferer feeling unwell. There are several types of intolerance, and symptoms can include skin reactions, respiratory reactions, general reactions (such as headaches and foggy memory), and gut reactions.
The Major Allergens
There are 14 major classified allergens that require careful attention and specific labelling in food products. These allergens include:
- Cereals Containing Gluten
- Nuts (Tree nuts)
- Sulphur Dioxide (Sulphites)
At Choc Affair, we use simple ingredients to make our chocolate, but there are three major food allergens present overall, and we’ll focus on these today: milk, soya, and cereals containing gluten.
Allergens in Our Chocolate
Milk is a key ingredient in our delicious milk chocolate. According to AllergyUK, cow’s milk allergy is one of the most common food allergies to affect babies and young children, but most children will outgrow their allergy to milk by the time they reach school age. In a small number of people who do not outgrow their allergy to cow’s milk, it will persist into adulthood, and these people are more likely to experience more severe allergic reactions. The sudden development of an allergy to cow’s milk as an adult is very rare, and there has been little research carried out about it. The confusion around milk and whether it is a potential allergy or intolerance is discussed on the AllergyUK website. Food labelling can add further confusion, as many food products will carry a vegan logo but still carry an allergen warning “may contain milk” on the labelling, which is what we state on the back of our chocolate bar wrappers. This is due to cross-contact, where there is a risk of an allergen being accidentally transferred from a food that contains the allergen to one that does not contain it.
Soya is widely found in many foods, and as many as 60% of all manufactured foods contain soya. It comes from soybeans and young soybeans known as edamame beans. Soya is used in foods to emulsify ingredients that would typically separate, as well as being used as an antioxidant and flavour protector. It also makes for easier handling and workability of our chocolate when we’re making our delicious chocolate bars. We’ve already replaced soya with sunflower lecithin in all our caramel-based chocolates and oat milk collection. We are now looking at the recipes for our dark and milk chocolate to do the same and replace the soya with sunflower lecithin. However, we will continue to state “may contain” due to the possibility of cross-contact, as our chocolate is produced in a manufacturing area that still uses soya, which poses an extremely low risk of transference of the allergen.
Cereals containing gluten are another allergen we must be mindful of. Our oat milk chocolate collection has the key ingredient of oats in it, and even though they are certified as gluten-free dried oats, we must label them as an allergen. The FDF states that oats and wheat belong to the same botanical family (Poaceae) and oats also contain prolamin storage proteins called avenins, which can trigger coeliac disease in a small proportion of people. In practice, pure uncontaminated oats can be consumed safely by most but not all people with coeliac disease. However, cross-contamination of oats with other cereals containing gluten in the supply chain poses a more significant risk. This is why we emphasise the potential presence of an allergen within the ingredients list on the back of our chocolate packaging, even though our Oat milk range uses gluten-free oats.
Providing Accessible Chocolate
At Choc Affair, we take allergies and intolerances seriously and are committed to providing our customers with delicious chocolate that is accessible to everyone. We understand that it’s essential to be transparent about the allergens in our chocolate and to ensure our customers can make informed decisions when purchasing our products. While we cannot avoid using milk in our milk chocolate, we are working to replace soya with sunflower lecithin in our dark and milk chocolate recipes to make our chocolate even more accessible to people with soya allergies.
Resources for Further Information
If your customers ask you about the allergens present in the products you’re selling, you can ask the right questions to find out whether it is an intolerance or an allergy and then guide them accordingly. We recommend checking out the AllergyUK website for a wealth of information on food allergies and intolerances. Being aware of the issue is always helpful, as allergies are a common problem, and you will no doubt find yourself being asked more and more about the foods you are stocking.
We hope this blog has provided you with valuable information and resources to better understand food allergies and intolerances. At Choc Affair, we believe that everyone should be able to enjoy delicious chocolate, and we’re committed to making our products accessible to everyone, regardless of their dietary needs.