A gluten-free scanning app in Australia could prompt industry to improve nutritional content and label on-pack, says a research fellow from the George Institute for Global Health.
The newly launched scanning app – GlutenSwitch – provides information on the gluten content of a scanned item.
It also recommends alternative gluten-free items listed in order of healthiness based on nutrient profiling criteria from Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). The criteria include adverse nutrients like fat, sugar and sodium as well as positive nutrients like protein, fiber and calcium.
Developed collaboratively by Bupa and The George Institute for Global Health, the app has been launched as an additional feature of the broader food-label scanning app, FoodSwitch.
Lead researcher on the GlutenSwitch initative and fellow at the George Institute for Global Health, Dr Elizabeth Dunford, said the new app could provoke gluten-free manufacturers to innovate further.
“The GlutenSwitch filter may encourage manufacturers not only to create gluten-free alternative products (and declare this on-pack), but also to improve the nutritional composition of their gluten-free products so that they appear first in the list,” Dunford told BakeryandSnacks.com.
Bupa chief medical officer, Dr Paul Bates, said that a produce free from gluten is not automatically healthy. “As with many processed foods, some gluten-free products are high in sodium and saturated fat,” he said.
Communicating naturally gluten-free
Dunford explained that the app only recommends alternatives that are listed on-pack as gluten-free, so naturally free-from products such as eggs or others like canned fruit would not be displayed.
The research fellow said she was hopeful that the scanning app would encourage manufacturers of gluten-free goods, even naturally free-from, to declare this on-pack. This, she said, would better communicate what is available to the growing population of those with celiac disease.
“Often consumers are unaware that there are gluten-free versions of foods that are generally gluten-containing, for example biscuits, and GlutenSwitch can help consumers find gluten-free products in almost every food category,” Dunford said.
Industry questions accuracy of new app
The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) said it recognized the importance of detailed and accurate information for consumers but questioned the accuracy of the new app.
“The data is provided by unverified third parties from a product label, potentially introducing data entry errors,” an AFGC spokesperson said.
In addition, the healthier alternatives feature could provoke confusion, she said.
“The George Institute app directs the consumer to look for ‘healthier choices’, which may not be stocked by the supermarket, thereby adding to consumer anxiety and confusion when shopping. This then robs the consumers of the opportunity to consider both price and other gluten-free products.”
The AFGC suggested the free GS1 GoScan mobile app – funded and collaboratively developed by industry – was a better option for consumers.
“Importantly, the information about the product comes directly from the manufacturer and has been verified for accuracy since inaccurate allergen information is potentially life-threatening,” it said.
GS1 GoScan was launched in March 2013 and provides information on allergen declarations, nutritional conten, Recommended Daily Intake, dietary information such as kosher, halal, organic and country of origin.