Label Lookout: Fending off Food Allergies

food label
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With backpacks full of school supplies and little hearts filled with excitement at seeing old and new friends, the beginning of a new school year can be very exhilarating. However, this time of year can also be very stressful and anxiety-filled for parents of children with food allergies.

As back-to-school shopping ensues, preparing lunches and snacks for children with food allergies can prove difficult with ambiguous food labeling. The best way to prevent a reaction is to avoid and eliminate the allergen completely. However, some allergens may be harder to remove than others. Especially when it comes to pre-made and packaged foods.

What Should I Look Out For?

Read up on some important points from the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA). These laws and regulations in place make it easier for those with food allergies to identify and avoid allergens.

FALCPA-regulated allergens can be spotted in one of three ways: (Food Allergy Research & Education, n.d.)

  • In the ingredient list, using the allergen’s common name.
  • Using the word “Contains” followed by the name of the major food allergen
    • “Contains milk, wheat.”
  • In the ingredient list in parentheses, when the ingredient is a less common form of the allergen
    • “albumin (egg).”

Label Language

“Contains” statements

  • These are a straightforward and sure-fire way to immediately identify whether an allergen is present or not. If there is no “Contains” statement, read the full ingredient list to check for your allergen.

Advisory statements (Allergy & Asthma Network, n.d.)

  • These are voluntary for manufacturers and can vary from product to product. Advisory statements are not governed or required. Therefore, the wording and presence of these labels are very loosely regulated. If a food allergen is listed in an advisory statement, this means that there’s a chance the allergen is present or has been exposed to the food product. A good rule of thumb is to avoid products with your allergen in the advisory statement.
    • “May contain,” “Produced in a facility that,” or “Manufactured on shared equipment with”

“Allergen-free” statements (Food Allergy Research & Education, n.d.)

  • These are not regulated and can be put on food products that are made in facilities where the allergens are present. Always contact the manufacturer if you are unsure and take caution.
    • “Peanut-free,”, “Soy-free,” “Tree nut-free”

Summary

Food allergies can seem very daunting especially with a mix of terminology and unclear labeling. Paying close attention to the ingredients list and reading up on the food allergen regulations and legislature can help you identify any “hidden” allergens. Furthermore, it will prepare and provide you the tools for approaching your next grocery trip. Always remember that when in doubt, don’t buy the food product or contact the manufacturer for clarification.

References

  1. Allergy & Asthma Network. (n.d.). Living with Food Allergies. Allergy & Asthma Network. Retrieved 28 August 2021, from https://allergyasthmanetwork.org/allergies/food-allergies/living-with-food-allergies/.
  2. Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004, 2 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. (2004). https://www.fda.gov/food/food-allergensgluten-free-guidance-documents-regulatory-information/food-allergen-labeling-and-consumer-protection-act-2004-falcpa.
  3. Food Allergy Research & Education. (n.d.). How to Read a Food Label. Food Allergy Research & Education. Retrieved 28 August 2021, from https://www.foodallergy.org/resources/how-read-food-label.
  4. Kids With Food Allergies. (n.d.). FAQ About the Food Allergen Labeling Consumer Protection Act. Kids With Food Allergies. Retrieved 28 August 2021, from https://www.kidswithfoodallergies.org/label-law-food-allergen-labeling-consumer-protection-act/.