How to Read Food Labels if You Have Food Allergies

8 foods cause 90% of food allergies (click to enlarge the image). The likelihood of a negative oral food challenge is shown in relation to the respective values of skin prick test (SPT) and serum IgE (sIgE).

The Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) has some helpful tips How to Read Food Labels if You Have Food Allergies:

The only way to prevent a food-allergy reaction is to avoid the problem food.

While all ingredients in a food are supposed to be listed in the ingredients list, the US law (FALCPA) only covers the eight most common allergens. These are milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and crustacean shellfish.

For example, the law is different in Canada where the following allergens must be declared on all food labels (see the tweets below):

Tree nuts
(and gluten)

Note that molluscan shellfish—such as oysters, clams, mussels or scallops—are not required to be labeled as a major allergen.

The “May Contain” Statements does not mean much: You may also notice other precautionary language on food labels. These include statements such as “may contain,” “processed in facility that also processes” or “made on equipment with.” Such advisory labeling is voluntary for manufacturers. There are no laws governing it.

Precautionary allergen labeling ("may contain", etc.) is voluntary and unregulated in the U.S. and most other countries. Contact manufacturer and ask specific questions about food allergen content.

How to Read Food Labels if You Have Food Allergies

1. Familiarize yourself with your allergen and the foods it often appears in. Food allergens can appear in surprising places and go by less-common names. Knowing your allergen inside and out will improve your sleuthing skills.

2. If you are unsure whether a product could have come in contact with your allergen(s), call the manufacturer. Ask them about their ingredients and manufacturing practices.

3. If you encounter a product that doesn’t have an ingredients list, don’t buy it.

4. Be extra careful with imported products. Food labeling regulations vary by country. Imported items are supposed to follow FALCPA and other domestic food labeling laws, but occasionally they do not.

5. A child with a food allergy can start checking food labels as soon as he or she learns to read. Practice at home and when you’re shopping—with help from an adult.

For food allergen-specific instructions, see this PDF from FARE:


How to Read Food Labels | Food Allergy Research & Education

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