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Managing Food Allergies - Reading Food Labels

Food Allergy Basics

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Updated March 28, 2012

Reading food labels make it easy to spot ingredients that your kids might be allergic to.

Reading food labels make it easy to spot allergens or ingredients that your kids might be allergic to, like wheat, milk, or soy, etc.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images
It seems like there is nothing easy when it comes to thinking about food allergies. Just figuring out what your kids are allergic to can be hard enough. Are their hives being caused by the milk they are drinking, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich they had for lunch, or the scrambled eggs they had for breakfast?

Although allergy testing can aid in getting a diagnosis of what your kids are allergic to, in the past, you have been mostly on your own in learning to avoid those things that trigger your child's allergies.

For example, if your child is allergic to milk, it is easy to know to avoid drinking cow's milk, but it is harder to avoid things that might have milk as a 'hidden' ingredient. These other foods might contain milk, but would only list whey or casein as an ingredient, making it much harder to know to avoid them.

Under the old food labeling rules, would you know to avoid these Vanilla Wafers based on this food label if your child was allergic to wheat, milk, and/or soy (if not, you will understand why after reading the new food label below)?

Ingredients: Enriched flour (wheat flour, malted barley, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), sugar, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, and/or cottonseed oil, high fructose corn syrup, whey, eggs, vanilla, natural and artificial flavoring) salt, leavening (sodium acid pyrophosphate, monocalcium phosphate), lecithin, mono-and diglycerides (emulsifier).

Reading Food Labels

The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act made it much easier for parents to identify foods that their kids may be allergic to. Under FALCPA, all food products that are labeled on or after January 1, 2006 must clearly identify if they include any of the eight most common ingredients that people are allergic to (also referred to as allergens), including:
  • milk
  • eggs
  • fish (such as bass, flounder, cod, etc.)
  • shellfish (such as crab, lobster, shrimp, etc.)
  • tree nuts (such as almonds, walnuts, pecans, etc.)
  • peanuts
  • wheat
  • soybeans
Food labels now clearly name the food allergen in the list of ingredients next to the common name, for example soy after the common name lecithin. The label for those same Vanilla Wafers now look like this under food labeling rules:
Ingredients: Enriched flour (wheat flour, malted barley, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), sugar, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, and/or cottonseed oil, high fructose corn syrup, whey (milk), eggs, vanilla, natural and artificial flavoring) salt, leavening (sodium acid pyrophosphate, monocalcium phosphate), lecithin (soy), mono-and diglycerides (emulsifier).
or the label will have the word 'Contains' right after the list of ingredients and it will list any of the 8 common allergens that may be in the food, such as:
Contains Wheat, Milk, Eggs and Soy
Keep in mind that the food label can use either method of listing food allergens, so if you don't see the 'Contains' list, check the Ingredients themselves for allergens.

If you aren't sure if a food contains something to which your child might be allergic, remember the health and safety slogan - 'When in doubt, leave it it out.' Don't buy or give your child with food allergies any foods unless you know that they are safe.



Sources:

FDA. Food Allergen Labeling And Consumer Protection Act of 2004 Questions and Answers. Accessed March 2012.

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