Food Labels: Gaps on Dairy, Egg; Better on Peanut

in Food Allergy, Milk & Egg, Peanut & Tree Nut
Published: August 24, 2010

Products from smaller food companies are more likely to contain allergens, whether or not they had an advisory statement, according to a study from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. Researchers there looked at 400 products to see how the labelling for allergens held up.

For example, almost 6 per cent of the products from smaller companies that didn’t have an advisory label for milk did, in fact, contain milk. “The bottom line is that it might be wise to exercise more caution with smaller companies,” says Dr. Lara Ford, a fellow at Mount Sinai. (Precautions include checking directly with a food maker.)

What they found for those with peanut allergies was more encouraging: out of all the products tested that did not have a warning for peanuts, none contained the allergen. However, for milk and egg, the two other allergens looked at in this study, there were a few products without these ingredients on the labels that in fact contained the allergen.

Are “May Contain”
Statements Overused?

When it came to advisory labels, or “may contain” statements, there were products in each category of allergen that did in fact include that ingredient when tested. Although the numbers were small (for example, 12 out of 228 products with the may contain advisory), Ford stresses this does not mean warning labels should be ignored.

“The issue is that the most likely way for contamination to occur, especially for a solid food like peanut, would be for a chunk of it to end up in one packet of the food. It’s not evenly distributed through every packet of the food at a low level,” she explains.

Still, Ford says more research needs to be done to determine what level of contamination would be harmful, for various allergens. “Based on the amount of knowledge that we do have, a lot of food that we recorded to have contamination would likely not have triggered symptoms in most patients.”

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