Food Label Awareness
When a family member has an allergy, reading is protection.
Reading the ingredients on every packaged food label becomes a way of life when you have food allergies and are at risk of anaphylaxis. Labels have to be carefully before a food is sampled by the allergic family member. While labels are supposed to by law be written in plain English, look for hidden sources of allergens and other less obvious names for allergens (such as “casein” or “whey” for milk).
Also be on the lookout for precautionary statements. These are statements that indicate an allergen may be in the food, due to cross-contamination during production. Examples of precautionary statements include: “May contain wheat” and “Manufactured in a facility that also processes tree nuts.”
Allergists generally advise people with allergies to avoid all products that show such statements about their allergen(s) – dubbed “may contains” – because they often “do contain” the allergen.
If you are ever uncertain about whether a food product is safe for you, call the manufacturer to confirm. When in doubt, don’t eat it.
In Canada, new regulations come into effect in August, 2012 that would require food manufacturers list priority allergens in plain language on packaging, rather than using alternate names (ie: arachidic acid, for peanuts). The ingredients within listed ingredients that are priority allergens would also have to be shown. For example, manufacturers couldn’t simply list “flavouring” if the source of the flavouring is a priority allergen, such as mustard.
More on Canada’s New Food Allergen Regulations.
In the United States, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act went into effect in 2006. FALCPA requires manufacturers to use plain language when listing priority allergens, and to declare all allergens either in the ingredient list, or in a “Contains:” statement at the end of the list.
The allergens included in this regulation are milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, wheat peanuts and soybeans. These regulations do not include sesame and mustard, unlike the new Canadian regulations.
Separate legislation requires companies to declare sulfites if they are present at more than 10 parts per million, or if they had a technical or functional effect in the food.
Both Canada and the United States are studying ways to regulate the precautionary statements used on packaged food labels.