The Importance of Allergen Warning Labels

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Food allergies are affecting a growing number of children and adults. Those afflicted by food allergies must carefully read food labels to ensure that they aren't risking an allergic reactor. While many food companies are careful about labeling potential allergens in their products, there is still room for improvement, says , a manufacturing news center.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the only way to avoid allergic reactions is strict avoidance of the allergen. To assist people who must avoid certain ingredients, the FDA issued the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004, or FALCPA. This act requires food companies to print warning labels if their products contain one of the eight most common allergens: milk, egg, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, and fish.

According to FDA data, FALCPA has been very effective. Before it was enacted, one FDA study showed that 25 percent of sampled foods, which included candy, ice cream, and baked goods, failed to note the presence of peanuts or eggs. The number of recalls due to allergens not listed on the label nearly quadrupled in the decade between 1990 and 2000. Since FALCPA was passed, these numbers have been much lower.

Despite the success of FALCPA, there are still some shortcomings. FALCPA does not require 'advisory labeling' to warn consumers that there may be allergens present due to cross-contamination issues. 'May contain' labels should be included on food manufactured on equipment that also processes one of the top allergens. It is clear that those with severe food allergies find such labeling helpful. Continuous improvement of allergen labeling requirements will help to keep consumers safe.

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