Despite — or perhaps  because of — awareness of allergen-related recalls, the issue remains a problem for the food industry, and some are looking for new solutions to help retailers.

In the fourth quarter of 2013, undeclared allergens accounted for about 42% of the FDA’s 134 recalls, the single largest cause for food recalls, according to an analysis by ExpertRECALL.

Already this year, Fairway Market has recalled grilling sauce with undeclared anchovies, Whole Foods Market recalled soup due to undeclared milk, Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage recalled dark chocolate almonds over undeclared peanuts, and Winn-Dixie Stores recalled instant chocolate drink mix for potential undeclared milk. Since many products go through several steps before they reach grocery shelves, there are many places in that process where the item could be mislabeled or an ingredient left off an allergen warning.

When retailers change suppliers, it is important to reexamine product labels to make sure allergen warnings are still correct.“So it’s not that companies are becoming more careless but that the issue is becoming more complex. The process of food manufacturing is more efficient but the flip side is that one small misstep with a labeling machine or one faulty link in an international supply chain can lead to a massive recall,” said Kevin Pollack, VP of recalls at ExpertRECALL.

On the other hand, Gale Prince, founder of SAGE Food Safety Consultants, thinks inexperienced small manufacturers present the biggest challenge for supermarkets, especially as retailers look for local products.

“For example, in one of the big recalls involving a small company they forgot to list wheat on their ingredients statement. Well most bakery foods are made with flour, wheat flour. Simple things like that,” said Prince, who has over 40 years of industry experience and is known as the “dean of product recalls.”

“So along those avenues as retailers search out this, what should I say, artisan-type operations, they need to review very carefully the labels that are being presented with those group of products.”

In response to members’ needs and customers’ concerns, Food Marketing Institute’s food protection committee has named allergens a key issue for 2014 and will work to help educate retailers on this issue.

“And so to move past just putting up a sign in the prepared foods department saying that they have allergens in the department and really just try to make some advances into controlling allergens and giving their customers more information about what products have the allergens and moving beyond, ‘We use nuts in our bakery,’ and trying to help the customers make more informed decisions,” said Hillary Thesmar, FMI’s VP of food safety programs.