Food Allergies and Labeling Laws

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food label

Living life with food allergies can be difficult. After all, food is a large part of how we interact with one another in society. From work parties, to birthday parties to holiday celebrations—food is typically a part of the event.

Before 2004, those with food allergies had to be extremely careful about what processed items they bought in a store. They had to “trust” that manufacturers were being honest about what was in their products and labeling it on the package. That wasn't enough.

With food allergies on the rise and more and more individuals reacting to foods, The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (Public Law 108-282, Title II) was passed and put into place.

The labeling law requires that foods, that are not a raw agricultural commodity, include any of the top eight allergens, by common name, in the ingredients list if the allergen is in the food item. The top eight allergens being peanut, tree nut, egg, soy, dairy, wheat, fish and shellfish. If a major allergen is in the food item, the ingredient label must list that allergen by common name in the ingredients, OR near the ingredients list the word contains and then the major allergen the food source is derived from.

This has made life easier for many food allergic individuals, at least the ones with allergies to the top eight allergens. The labeling law does not cover other common allergens nor does it include any flavorings or seasonings. The law also only covers whether the allergen is an ingredient within the food item, not within the manufacturing facility. Therefore warning labels such as “may contain” or “processed in” are not legally required.

This has caused problematic for many food allergic individuals as a 2007 study has shown that up to 7% of food items tested with warning labels contained detectable levels of peanut protein, even though peanut was not listed as an ingredient.

The food allergy community, along with many other food related communities, feel it's once again time for a food labeling change. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group, would like to see the nutrition facts portion of the label get a makeover. One such change would be to list allergens in red. This might help a large portion of the food allergy community, but may leave out those who are color blind. Another suggestion is to list the minor ingredients and allergens separately from the main ingredients list.

While there are no labeling law changes in place at the moment, it seems evident that in the near future there will be changes to food labels to make them better for all consumers food allergies and otherwise.

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Ruth Smith is the mother of a child with multiple life threatening food allergies
and founder of Best Allergy Sites: a food allergy directory and resource guide.

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