October 26th, 2010

Healthy Food Facts-Understanding Food Allergy Labels

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Photo used under Creative Commons from s5ky

Most of us know someone with a food allergy.  I certainly do-two of my children have been labeled with life threatening food allergies; one to peanuts and tree nuts and the other to soy.  Every time I head to the grocery store I spend a tremendous amount of time reading each and every label-including labels that I am familiar with to be sure they haven’t changed.  This is a necessity to keep my family safe and healthy.

The Law

In January, 2006, the new Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) took effect.  The law requires food manufacturers to identify all ingredients in a food product containing one or more of the eight major allergens.

The eight foods identified by the law are:

  1. Milk
  2. Eggs
  3. Fish (e.g., bass, flounder, cod)
  4. Crustacean shellfish (e.g. crab, lobster, shrimp)
  5. Tree nuts (e.g., almonds, walnuts, pecans)
  6. Peanuts
  7. Wheat
  8. Soybeans

The law states that the name of the food source of a major food allergen must appear:

  1. In parentheses following the name of the ingredient.
    Examples: “lecithin (soy),” “flour (wheat),” and “whey (milk)”


  1. Immediately after or next to the list of ingredients in a “contains” statement.
    Example: “Contains Wheat, Milk, and Soy.”

Most companies are very clear in their labeling and use the “contains” language in bold after their ingredient list.


Photo used under Creative Commons from Gabriel Lima

I have been scrutinizing food labels for years-I am noticing that I have to squint these days to read the fine print.  Many labels contain language about cross-contamination-if the food was processed on shared equipment or shared processing lines with one of the 8 allergens.

But not all manufacturers are listing cross-contamination information.  The reason being- companies are not required to include this information. There are no particular regulations on whether they need to add statements such as “may contain traces of peanuts,” for example, for foods that aren’t supposed to contain such allergens. It is a company’s choice whether or not to include this information, and how to word it.

How to decide if cross-contamination is an issue

So the bottom line is YOU will need to determine what degree of risk you are comfortable with when purchasing foods. That is a lot of pressure when you are buying food for someone else.

Here is my internal checklist for deciding whether or not to buy a product:

  • I first check the ingredients list for the 8 common allergens.
  • If there is no cross-contamination  or “may contain” information I then look at the other same brand products on the shelf.  If there are other products that have either nuts or soy I will more often than not assume there might be cross-contamination.
  • I might contact the manufacturer on occasion to ask specifically about a cross-contamination issue.

Let me know how do you decide which products are safe to purchase?

My Go-To Food Allergy Sites:

Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network

The Allergic Kid

The Nut-Free Mom

The Food Allergy Mama

Peanuts in Eden

Food Allergies: What You Need to Know

How to Shop Safely

7 Responses to “Healthy Food Facts-Understanding Food Allergy Labels”

  1. […] the rest here: Healthy Food Facts-Understanding Food Allergy Labels | Groovy … Posted in Nutrition RSS 2.0 | Trackback | […]

  2. Lori,

    This is such an important topic because allergies are on the rise, especially in children. I have delayed sensitivities many foods or to the mold contained in foods and cannot eat any of these 8 allergens. My solution is not to buy packaged food with only a few exceptions; therefore, no labels to read. I realize this is probably too radical a step for most people, so it’s great to have suggestions like the one’s you offer to determine a potential risk.

    Sadly, so many delayed food sensitivities go undiagnosed. Thanks for this article.

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by karen konger, Boris, shela maria, danna cruise, ukallergies and others. ukallergies said: Healthy Food Facts-Understanding Food Allergy Labels | Groovy … http://bit.ly/debm0R […]

  4. Hi Sandra. It must be very challenging to avoid all 8 common allergens. Avoidance of all pre-packaged food must present its own set of challenges as well. I admire your dedication to your health. You have found a solution that works for you. If we could all eat only food that doesn’t require labeling-fresh and locally grown foods- we wouldn’t need an education on label reading. While I try to incorporate fresh, local food into our diet-it is next to impossible to rely solely on this with children. Hopefully, with more information, delayed food sensitivities will be uncovered and appropriate diets will be adopted. Thanks so much for your input.

  5. I really can relate. Our son has severe allergies to many foods and it has been such a learning process. What really made it hard was that he also had severe eczema and we could not figure out what to avoid! We found out after taking him to many doctors, doing many tests and using all kinds of meds and creams that what his body needed to get better form the inside out was his Belly Boost chewable probiotic. We found out from my dad about how probiotics are being shown to help with food intolerances and skin and that is exactly what we needed. He does have allergies but many intolerances were the cause of his skin. We have had to learn a lot and food labels can be a challenge. Fortunately we make a lot of our foods from scratch – and I LOVE The Food Allergy Mama site and her baking book!!

  6. Thanks so much for your comment. It really is such a learning process when you are dealing with food allergies. Especially since things are constantly changing-i.e. food labeling. We have been trying to give probiotics by mixing the powder into food. Thanks for the chewable tip-I am going to try the Belly Boost chewable probiotics-maybe that would be easier. We are in the process of working with an incredible woman who uses desensitization to essentially get rid of food sensitivities. So far it has been truly amazing…..more on that to come! Great job making most of your food from scratch. You will have to share some of your fav recipes.

  7. When that bill was passed, I couldn’t help but be fully happy. It’s like a prick had been removed from me. Btw, thanks for the go-to list. Allergy Easy

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About Lori

Hi! I’m Lori, a recovering attorney, writer, and mom to three boys. Join me as I uncover and share the latest info on healthy living. Learn more.

Click HERE to contact Lori

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