The clock is ticking for food manufacturers to comply with a new federal labeling law that places a greater emphasis on their ability to manage data related to ingredients, formulas and recipes.

The Food Allergen and Consumer Protection Act, known as FALCPA, was signed into law in August 2003. The measure requires food companies to identify the presence of eight major allergens in plain language on their product labels. Complying with the law requires companies to have an organized process for collecting, maintaining and tracking allergen information, from the raw-material stage to the production of finished goods.Herb Rau>Text

Complying with the law requires companies to have an organized process for collecting, maintaining and tracking allergen information, from the raw-material stage to the production of finished goods, said Herb Rau, director of quality at Barber Foods, a maker of frozen chicken products in Portland, Maine.

“From an IT perspective, the information you have inside your systems needs to be always updated and has to fairly represent the material you’re using in your products,” Rau said.

Complicated task

It’s a task that can get complicated, especially for larger companies that typically deal with many ingredients, suppliers and products, said Kara Romanow, an analyst at AMR Research Inc. in Boston.

“Many of them don’t have the information in any sort of organized fashion,” she said, adding that food makers often store raw-material and recipe information in spreadsheets and lab notes.

Some IT vendors offer tools designed to help companies better organize their information. Last week, for instance, Formation Systems Inc. in Southboro, Mass., released an updated version of its Optiva product life-cycle management software for process manufacturers that features new formula, labeling and package management functions.

The software can capture information about raw materials and roll up the data “so that no matter what product or formulation you’re talking about, it can provide you with allergen information,” said Ian Finley, vice president of marketing at Formation.

Rich Products Corp., a $1.7 billion food processor in Buffalo, N.Y., is using Optiva to store information on all of the ingredients in its products. The allergen information related to each ingredient is carried through during the manufacturing process, as are nutritional calculations. That makes product labeling easier, said Anne Schneider, a business analyst at Rich.

“With Optiva, the data has become more visible and easier to extract,” she said. Rich installed the software last year, having previously relied on a homegrown application to track product information.

Barber Foods is also using Optiva to track and store information about raw materials. The company already plans to move to the new version of the software, Rau said.

Other vendors with similar products include Aspen Technology Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., and San Francisco-based GlobalNetXchange LLC, which last year acquired a technology that lets users create a central database for raw materials and finished products. It also performs recipe and nutritional calculations based on the data.

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