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Monday, March 23, 2009

Food Allergy Labeling Not Always Accurate

One more post from last week's annual meeting of the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, following A Patch for Lessening Dairy Allergies and 4X Food Allergies in Black Male Children.

The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA), which actually went into effect on January 1, 2006, mandated that the:

presence of any of eight potential major allergens - milk, egg, fish (e.g., bass, flounder, or cod), Crustacean shellfish (e.g., crab, lobster, or shrimp), tree nuts (e.g., almonds, pecans, or walnuts), wheat, peanuts, and soybeans – must now be revealed in plain English and in easy-to-see and –read form on labels.

That's why you see any dairy ingredient pointed out as MILK in capital letters on ingredients lists. FALCPA also is responsible for the "may contain" warnings or ones written as "processed on shared equipment," or "manufactured in a facility that processes."

How well have companies done in using these labels and warnings correctly? Amanda Gardner of U. S. News and World Report reported on a study that checked out almost 400 products.

The good news is that most major companies are well in compliance with FALCPA. Unfortunately, smaller companies are less so.
"[Study senior author Dr. Scott H. Sicherer said] one thing we did notice is that products that didn't have this labeling but did have detectable proteins came primarily from smaller companies."

And people with allergies do have real concern about foods that "may" contain an allergen. The study found that 5.3% of the foods that had one of the warning labels for eggs, milk, or peanuts really did contain detectable amounts of those allergens.

More worrisomely, 1.9% of those without any warnings at all also contained these allergens, about half of these in sufficient amounts to trigger a reaction. These were mainly the ones from smaller companies mentioned previously.

Dark chocolates were a 'leading offender," other researchers at the meeting said.

These percentages are far too high for comfort. Any unreported allergens are a problem, but they do happen even in well-run companies. FALCPA was supposed to lower the risk markedly. It may have, but not nearly enough. Be sure to report any reactions to the offending companies and demand that they get their labeling right the first time.

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