Most of us know someone with a food allergy. I certainly do-two of my children have been labeled with life threatening food allergies; one to peanuts and tree nuts and the other to soy. Every time I head to the grocery store I spend a tremendous amount of time reading each and every label-including labels that I am familiar with to be sure they haven’t changed. This is a necessity to keep my family safe and healthy.
In January, 2006, the new Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) took effect. The law requires food manufacturers to identify all ingredients in a food product containing one or more of the eight major allergens.
The eight foods identified by the law are:
- Fish (e.g., bass, flounder, cod)
- Crustacean shellfish (e.g. crab, lobster, shrimp)
- Tree nuts (e.g., almonds, walnuts, pecans)
The law states that the name of the food source of a major food allergen must appear:
- In parentheses following the name of the ingredient.
Examples: “lecithin (soy),” “flour (wheat),” and “whey (milk)”
– OR –
- Immediately after or next to the list of ingredients in a “contains” statement.
Example: “Contains Wheat, Milk, and Soy.”
Most companies are very clear in their labeling and use the “contains” language in bold after their ingredient list.
HERE’S WHERE IT GETS REALLY CONFUSING
I have been scrutinizing food labels for years-I am noticing that I have to squint these days to read the fine print. Many labels contain language about cross-contamination-if the food was processed on shared equipment or shared processing lines with one of the 8 allergens.
But not all manufacturers are listing cross-contamination information. The reason being- companies are not required to include this information. There are no particular regulations on whether they need to add statements such as “may contain traces of peanuts,” for example, for foods that aren’t supposed to contain such allergens. It is a company’s choice whether or not to include this information, and how to word it.
How to decide if cross-contamination is an issue
So the bottom line is YOU will need to determine what degree of risk you are comfortable with when purchasing foods. That is a lot of pressure when you are buying food for someone else.
Here is my internal checklist for deciding whether or not to buy a product:
- I first check the ingredients list for the 8 common allergens.
- If there is no cross-contamination or “may contain” information I then look at the other same brand products on the shelf. If there are other products that have either nuts or soy I will more often than not assume there might be cross-contamination.
- I might contact the manufacturer on occasion to ask specifically about a cross-contamination issue.
Let me know how do you decide which products are safe to purchase?
My Go-To Food Allergy Sites:
Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network
Peanuts in Eden
Food Allergies: What You Need to Know