For food allergy families across the globe, there is nothing quite as important as trust. Applegate recognizes that our brand is built on the trust of our loyal customers – especially those in the food allergy community. In fact, at Applegate headquarters we feature letters from families who live with food allergies and rely on Applegate for our commitment to high quality and stringent safety standards. That’s why when Applegate was contacted on December 14, 2020 by a consumer whose son had a severe allergic reaction after eating APPLEGATE ORGANICS® Gluten-Free Chicken Nuggets with a “best before” date of 08/05/2021, we sprung into action.
The Applegate quality assurance team immediately began investigating the situation and worked with the family to find answers. The team examined testing records and documentation of all safety procedures. Applegate reviewed and contacted ingredient suppliers to determine if other allergens could have been the root cause. The team conducted multiple inspections and rounds of testing on everything from reserved samples of the product to the opened packaging that was retained by the consumer. Applegate went even further, engaging a third-party lab to test for other allergens like pea and sesame. The only test that confirmed traces of gluten was on crumbs in the opened packaging provided by the consumer.
How did gluten get there and where do we go from here? Unfortunately, despite all the investigating and testing, we might never know definitively how the traces of gluten got into that package. Applegate hasn’t received any other reports of reactions to the product. What we do know is that Applegate will take this experience to further improve food safety protocols around our certified gluten-free products. We’re also committed to working with this family and supporting Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) to further food allergy awareness, education and advocacy – particularly around transparency and labeling.
Applegate already far exceeds the standards and requirements outlined by the Gluten Free Certification Organization (GFCO) by insisting that products be tested for the presence of gluten at 5 parts per million (the GFCO standard is 10 parts per million). However, Applegate will be piloting over the next 90 days additional testing enhancements on our certified gluten-free breaded chicken products in an attempt to identify smarter ways of screening for trace amounts of gluten. Additionally, we will be delving even further into the supply chain by conducting a comprehensive risk assessment of all secondary ingredient suppliers for any potential sources of cross contamination. Finally, Applegate is committed to increased awareness and education efforts to ensure transparency and clarity on food allergy communications, including labeling.
Applegate looks forward to taking lessons learned from this experience and partnering with FARE to help create a safer world for those living with food allergies.