Where does responsibility lie when it comes to the safety and quality of your food?

Someone told me, “I don’t think it should be your responsibility to make sure food is allergen-free. It should be the food manufacturer and the restaurant. We [people with food allergies] already deal with enough crap.”

Every day we feed ourselves. We rip open packages, shovel morsels from our plate, thrust our hands into boxes and simply and effortlessly come into contact with food. Yet for nearly 80 million people in the United States, the process of feeding yourself safely is not that simple. Millions are avoiding certain proteins in foods. For those with gluten allergies, exposure as small as 1/200th of a teaspoon can cause serious health damages. As people become more aware of their dietary constraints and optimum form of nutrition, it becomes increasingly complex to navigate how to feed oneself best.

Policy certainly has responsibility in keeping us informed and food transparent but it often falls short of what you may require to stay healthy as an individual. These days gluten-free is a buzzword but did you know the FDA just defined what gluten-free means less than two years ago after decades of lobbying to produce a definition?

Assessing the complexity of food transparency through the lens of a gluten-free consumer, riding the gluten-free train can be treacherous. Food preparation is complex. From farm to fork food travels the distance. It’s been estimated that on average food travels more than 1500 miles to get to your plate in the US^. Through food transportation, storage and preparation there are ample opportunities for cross contamination. A handful of studies on foods labelled as gluten-free show that up to 20% of these foods have levels of gluten higher than 20 ppm (the FDA limit to consider a food gluten-free). Our own market research shows that 1 out of 3 people get sick from unintended gluten exposure when eating outside of the home.

There’s a lot to keep track of in the factory and a kitchen. We expect food manufacturers and restaurants to be educated and take the necessary precautions when it comes to allergens but there are sometimes external forces that make it challenging to keep foods free of allergens. But part of the responsibility absolutely lies with us to keep ourselves healthy and not just free of whatever we are supposed to avoid but full of everything that’s soul nourishing and great for our health.

^The original study is found here. Thirty-three fruits and vegetables grown in the US were tracked to a terminal market in Chicago.