5 Things You Should Know About Food Labels

Do you have food allergies or are you responsible for someone who does? You may think you’re a pro at reading food labels, but here are five things you should know about US food labeling requirements:

  1. Current labeling requirements regarding food allergies are dictated by an act of Congress known as FALCPA which became effective January 1, 2006.
  2. FALCPA mandates that manufacturers highlight the presence of eight major food allergens as ingredients in their products:
    • Milk
    • Eggs
    • Fish (e.g., bass, flounder, cod)
    • Crustacean Shellfish (e.g., crab, lobster, shrimp)
    • Tree Nuts (e.g., almonds, walnuts, pecans)
    • Peanuts
    • Wheat
    • Soybeans
  3. Other than these major allergens, manufacturers have no responsibility to highlight the presence of other potential allergens. If you are concerned about allergies to other food items (e.g. sesame seeds or strawberries) you must scrutinize the individual ingredients on the label. Even this may not be enough as your allergen may be disguised as “natural flavoring” or “spices”, so call the manufacturer.
  4. The presence of a major food allergen as an ingredient must be disclosed in one of two ways:
    1. The name of the food source of a major food allergen must appear in parentheses following the name of the ingredient.

      Examples: “lecithin (soy),” “flour (wheat),” and “whey (milk)”

    2. Immediately after or next to the list of ingredients in a “contains” statement.

      Example: “Contains Wheat, Milk, and Soy.

  5. Contrary to popular belief, manufacturers are not required to disclose potential allergens that may be introduced as part of the manufacturing process. All disclosures such as “Made in a factory that also processes peanuts” are entirely voluntary. There are no standards for the wording of these disclosures or guidelines for when they should be used, so consider them (or their absence) with caution.

Source: Food Allergen Labeling And Consumer Protection Act of 2004 Questions and Answers

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9 COMMENTS

  1. Also, companies are not responsible for listing 3rd party vendor ingredients. Anything like “spices” is anyone’s guess? Also even though a company has a peanut-free facility, their 3rd party vendor ingredients and equipment may be contaminated.

    ALSO, places like Teavana Teas who deal mostly in bulk, operate under individual state health department jurisdiction and are not required to label for cross-contamination, processed on, may contain, etc… even though every one of their teas are processed with peanuts and treenuts–made on the same equipment and scooped with shared scoops. You will not find one warning on any box, bag, wall, window, etc… Thanks to the fda. They said places such as Teavana operate as a franchise–like Wendy’s or McDonald’s and they do not have to label their products. INSANE and UNACCEPTABLE.

    • thank you Liseetss for bringing the Teavana example to my attention. We drink Teavana Tea and had no idea that they are proecessed with nuts or to even ask because of the floral nature of their teas. Knowing that the fda doesn not require this, makes me rethink the level of asking questions and never to assume again.

  2. Last week, I read a frozen yogurt label at Publix. Included with the ingredients list was “peanut oil”, yet “peanuts” was NOT listed with the other allergens of wheat, milk, and soy. I brought this to the attention of the store manager. He was genuinely concerned, and said he would call corporate. Moral of the story…don’t just rely on the allergens list. Be sure to read the ingredients, too!

    • Lisa, peanut oil and other oils derived from nuts are considered “highly refined oils” which are exempt from FALCPA disclosure requirements because they have minimal protein content and are considered safe to consume by those with food allergies. As a personal choice, we avoid foods containing peanut oil for our daughter just in case there is a problem with the manufacturing process and proteins make their way into the oil.

  3. We have noticed that the FDA does not seem to require coconut or coconut oil/powder to be identified as a tree nut allergen. Our tree-nut allergic child will have an extremely severe response to coconut including oils and powders. It’s one of the things we have to watch out for big time in things like fruit snacks, snack cakes, pre-packaged cake mixes, and microwave or vendor popped popcorn (our local Target pops their popcorn in coconut oil for example). Does anyone know if the safe lists on this site include coconut as a tree nut?

      • I’ve wondered about coconut too. I understand according to FALCPA it is a nut, but when I looked it up, I found it is really a seeded fruit or drupe & not technically a nut. Is your child allergic because it is a nut, or because coconut is also on his list of allergens? Not being combative, just trying to understand more. My son is four, allergic to peanuts, all tree nuts, egg, and soy. I still have a few items like coconut I haven’t figured out. For example, what about the cola nut listed in natural sodas? Thoughts on that one? Exhuasting

  4. We also avoid all products with Peanut Oil, as it is carries the same risk for cross-contamination as any other product manufactured where there are peanuts. Also, my daughter’s doctor advised us to avoid peanut oil first thing when my daughter was diagnosed with her severe peanut allergy. Shouldn’t FALCPA reconsider requiring companies to disclose Peanut Oil in products, especially in light of the 19-year old boy who recently died from eating a cookie, due to the peanut oil it contained??

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