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Living with Food Allergies

Avoiding Allergens

There is no cure for food allergies. Strict avoidance of food allergens - and early recognition and management of allergic reactions to food - are important measures to prevent serious health consequences. In some cases, oral immunotherapy may be used to treat food allergies and to decrease the risk of a severe allergic reaction.

How to Read Labels: “Don’t eat it first, Read it First!

Reading labels can be time-consuming and tiring. The Food Allergen Labeling Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) was passed in 2004 helping to provide food allergy families assistance with easier and clearer labeling requirements.

FALCPA requires that all packaged food list the 8 major food allergens in plain (clear and understandable) language. The top 8 allergens in the U.S. include cow’s milk, egg, fish, crustacens shellfish (shrimp, crab, lobster), peanut, tree nuts, wheat, and soy.

Over time, some companies have started to issue advisory labels and cautionary statements. They may say “May contain...” or “Processed in a facility with...” or “Manufactured on shared equipment with...”These statements come in varying formats and although they can be very helpful, they can also make label reading very difficult. These statements are not regulated or required. The FDA recommends that advisory labels “should not be used as a substitute for adhering to current good manufacturing practices and must be truthful and not misleading.”

A study by Hefle et al. published in the JACI in 2007 demonstrated about 7% of food products with advisory labeling for peanut actually had peanut protein found in detectable amounts. Eating foods with advisory labels carries with it an inherent risk.

The FDA recently added sesame to the list of major allergens required to be included on food labels. There are no labeling requirements for foods outside of the top 9.

Other items that may contain food but are not regulated by the FDA are fresh meats/poultry and certain egg products, as well as cosmetics, personal care products, prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, pet food, crafts, and toys.

Label reading can be tiresome but it is one of the most important things you do as an individual with food allergy or as an individual who takes care of children with food allergy. Taking time to read the label and to investigate it further as necessary can be the difference between safely eating and having an allergic reaction. Don’t eat it first, read it first!