Regarding Trace Allergens on Food Labels

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The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA) addresses the labeling of packaged food products regulated by the FDA.

Under FALCPA, foods containing one of the eight “major food allergens” must indicate the allergen on the food label. The eight major allergens are milk, egg, fish, Crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts, and soybeans.

FALCPA rules do not apply to fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh meats, restaurant foods wrapped or boxed for a customer order, or to highly refined oils which are considered safe—including those derived from a major allergen.

Regarding Trace Allergens

The labeling regulations apply to foods made with any ingredient that is or contains one of the eight allergens, but it applies only to ingredients that are intentionally added to the food product.

A manufacturer is not required to warn consumers there might be unintentional traces of an allergen from cross-contact during processing.

Cross-contact occurs when a food comes into contact with another food, and their proteins mix. Then, each food contains a trace amount of the other, and trace amounts of an allergen can trigger an allergic reaction in some people.

Placing precautionary warnings on food labels about the possible presence of trace allergens (e.g., "May contain...” or, "Processed in a facility with...”) is voluntary. So, a food with a trace allergen warning may or may not contain an allergen, and a product with no warning might have been processed in a facility with other foods, including an allergen.

Most allergists recommend avoidance of foods warning of possible cross-contact. Studies have indicated that some products with precautionary warnings do contain enough allergen to cause an allergic reaction, and cooking food does not remove allergens.

Staying Peanut-Free: Label Reading Tips

FARE, or Food Allergy Research and Education, recommends those with a peanut allergy avoid foods containing artificial nuts, beer nuts, peanut oil (cold pressed, expeller pressed, or extruded), goobers, ground nuts, mixed nuts, monkey nuts, nut pieces, nut meat, peanut butter, peanut flour, and peanut protein hydrolysate.

When reading food labels, keep in mind that:

  • Mandelonas are peanuts marinated in almond flavoring.
  • Arachis oil is peanut oil.
  • Sunflower seeds are frequently processed on equipment shared with tree nuts and sometimes peanuts. (Some allergists advise patients with a peanut allergy to avoid tree nuts as well.)
  • Nut butters (e.g., soy nut butter, sunflower seed butter) are sometimes processed on equipment shared with tree nuts or peanuts.
  • Research indicates that there is a strong possibility of cross-reaction between peanuts and the legume lupine.
  • Peanut is sometimes found in African, Asian, and Mexican dishes (especially Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, Tai, and Vietnamese).
  • Peanut is sometimes found in baked goods, candy (including chocolate), chili, egg rolls, enchilada sauce, marzipan, mole sauce, and nougat.

If you are unsure about the safety of a food product, contact the manufacturer, and question them about their ingredients and processing procedures.

Source: foodallergy.org Photo credit: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture

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