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Food Allergy Labels Easier to Understand
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If you are concerned about food allergy it is good to know the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires all food manufacturers to list common food allergens on food labels.  Even better is:  Food manufacturers are required to list the common food allergens in simple terms that adults and older children can easily understand. 

These labeling requirements are to help us reduce the chance of an accidental allergic reaction to a food.  These food label requirements were revised in January of 2006. Where to look for common allergen list on the food labels:  Look either in the ingredients list, after the list, or right next to it. Did you ever believe that “nondairy” means there is no milk in a product in the case you are allergic to milk products.  I sure would think this would be the case.  Before the label guidelines were revised, the use of “nondairy” was allowed even when the foods contained milk byproducts such as “casein” (a milk-derived protein). 

With the new guidelines if a product contains milk byproducts (that you could be allergic to), the label will lists the term “milk” in parenthesis after the term “casein,” or whatever other milk byproduct used.  Or, the label will simply state “contains milk.”  This is so much easier and informative especially for kids with food allergies to milk products who may be choosing their own snacks. Food labels of course do not and cannot list every possible allergen, the food manufacturers are required to list the top eight that account for 90 percent of all documented food allergies.  The list also represents foods most likely to cause a severe or life-threatening allergic reaction (anaphylaxis). 

These include:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts (such as almonds, cashews, walnuts)
  • Fish (such as bass, cod, flounder)
  • Shellfish (such as crab, lobster, shrimp)
  • Soy
  • Wheat

Any domestic or imported packaged food regulated by the FDA is required to make the labeling changes

Types of allergen included on the label are:

  • Type of tree nut such as almond, walnut
  • Type of crustacean shellfish such as crab or shrimp
  • Any ingredient that contains a protein from the eight major food allergens
  • Allergens found in flavorings, colorings or other additives Foods that are not labeled: 
  • Fresh produce
  • Fresh meat and certain highly refined oils

Foods that may inadvertently come into contact with a food allergen during the growing, harvesting or manufacturing process are also exempt. Also to our benefit is that the FDA is working to tighten regulations for manufacturers’ use of the term “gluten free” on food labels.  Gluten occurs in grains such as wheat, barley and rye, and can cause a serious reaction (though not an allergic one) in people who have celiac disease, a digestive disorder.  Many people are unsure about which foods contain gluten. 

The FDA is working to issue standards for what constitutes a gluten-free product by the year 2008. The new guidelines are to help us avoid exposure to even small amounts of a food allergen.  If you think you have a food allergy it is a good idea to see your doctor for testing.  Without specific testing you will not know whether or how much or how little exposure might trigger a serious allergic reaction. It is important to note also that not all people with food allergies are at significant risk when exposed to very small quantities of food.  If you will work closely with your doctor you and he or she can develop a personalized plan to reduce your risk of exposure to foods you are allergic to. In addition, the new food-labeling law helps you make safe choices; however, the law requires food allergens to be identified even in the smallest amounts.  You might see ingredients such as soy lecithin used as a nonstick agent for baked goods or fish gelatin used in coloring for soup broth.

Source:  Mayo Clinic Disclaimer:  The information in this article is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider.  Please consult your health care provider for advice about specific medical concerns.

By Connie Limon
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