Brands are becoming more and more cognizant of their customers’ dietary needs. While some decide to go vegan or dairy free due to personal preference, many need to keep a close eye on ingredient labels to protect their health. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, around 32 million people in the U.S. have food allergies, and even more have intolerances—which means they have to be careful as they shop.
Even as products on grocery shelves have gotten better at disclosing major allergens like milk, nuts, and eggs on the label, there are still plenty of risks for those with potentially life-threatening allergies. Who would have thought, for instance, that some beers could contain shellfish? A new app called Sifter is aiming to take the guesswork out of grocery shopping for people with allergies.
How brands must label allergens in foods
In 2004, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act became law, requiring the labels of packaged foods in the U.S. to disclose if an item contained one of what were at the time the “big eight” allergens: milk, egg, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts, and soybeans.
According to Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, sesame is a rising food allergy that was added to the list in 2021, making it the “big nine.” This evolution signals that more major food sensitivities may be recognized in the future, but those aren’t yet required to be explicitly acknowledged on labels.
How Sifter helps people with allergies do their shopping
The nonprofit Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) partnered with food tech company Sifter SP, Inc. to create an app that can be used at any grocery store. In the Sifter app, users can set up their MyDiet Profile to note any allergies, as well as other health diets or restrictions—for example, you can denote if you’re dealing with conditions like IBS, heartburn, or diabetes to guide your grocery shopping trip. There’s also an option to specify any medications you’re on so that you can avoid buying things that include ingredients that might mess with their effectiveness, like grapefruit.
Once your profile is complete, the app will “sift” through grocery options and only show you what matches your dietary restrictions; you can add these items to your shopping list before heading to the store. You can also scan product barcodes in stores using the app to see if an item matches your profile. As of now, the app seems to have direct partnerships with Amazon, Instacart, Thrive Markets, Walgreens, and Walmart, making it easier to search brands from those stores directly.
If you’re in need of some inspiration, the app includes recipes for those with allergies or other specific diets, including a newly added list dedicated to allergen-free holiday classics. One of the benefits of Sifter seems to be that you can use it not only for your own restrictions, but for those of your entire household. It’ll make it easier for the family to enjoy those upcoming big holiday meals together without worrying about potentially dangerous foods.