September 17, 2008
Confused about Food Allergy Labels?
WebMD has a good article about the confusion of advisory food labeling. Since 2004, the law states that manufacturers must list the eight major foods or food groups--milk, eggs, fish, Crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans. This is of course totally helpful for those of us avoiding certain foods. Around the same time this law was passed, warning statements started popping up on labels everywhere. Statements like "may contain (allergen)" or "produced on shared equipment that processes (allergen)" are common. To date, there is no labeling requirement for products that might come into contact with allergens during manufacturing.
The WebMD article quotes Scott Mandell, CEO and president of Enjoy Life Natural Brands (which offers gluten-free and allergy-friendly foods), "Advisory warnings are confusing, inconsistent, and do not provide adequate information to make smart and safe decisions."
According to the article, the FDA wants to develop a long-term strategy to help manufacturers "use more truthful, clear, and uniform advisory labels. The agency has addressed the inconsistent use of advisory labeling in the past, and different groups have developed some of their own guidelines, but the public hearing represents a push toward a more unified approach."
Sometimes I believe the "may contain" label, and if it lists an allergen I'm not avoiding, then I figure the food is safe. But other times I'm skeptical and avoid the food entirely. I err on the side of safety (for obvious reasons), but I wonder if I'm limiting my childrens' food selection based on inaccurate information. And so the wonders of food allergies continue...