Careful Label Reading for Food Allergens
Learning how to read labels is an essential skill for a parent searching for safe foods to purchase for a child with a food allergy. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you shop:
- Ingredients can and do change over time. It's a fact that ingredients can and do change over time. Don't assume that a food product's ingredients are going to always be the same just because the last time you purchased the product it was safe. Manufacturers are notorious for changing ingredients without warning.
- Manufacturing practices can vary from one locale to another. Different plants across the country and run by the same manufacturer can and do use different ingredients even though the basic packaging may look the same. When searching for products, don't assume that the same product you are shopping for has the identical ingredients or cross contamination issues. It may not.
- Different sizes of the same product may have different ingredients. Manufacturers also may use different ingredients for different sizes of the same product or different sizes may be made on shared equipment when other size versions of the same product are not. Don't assume anything.
- Look for names of hidden ingredients on the label. Become familiar with names of hidden ingredients for all of those unusual words like casein for milk or albumin for egg -- that mean they indicate the presence of a food to which you are allergic. The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network sells wallet size "read a label" cards you can use as a resource when shopping for foods to assist you with reading labels.
- Natural flavoring can contain many allergenic ingredients and the components of natural flavor can vary from product to product. Don't assume that a product is safe if it contains "natural flavoring" without calling the manufacturer to ask about the safety of the natural flavoring for your unique food allergy issues.
The new labeling laws in effect in 2006 will require manufacturers to declare if one or more of the 8 major food allergens are contained in a natural flavoring. The top 8 major food allergens are defined as: milk, egg, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts and soybeans. If you are managing food allergies other than the top 8 major food allergens, you will still have to call the manufacturer after the new labeling laws go into effect if a product label indicates the presence of natural flavoring.
Please note that foods that are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture do not follow the FALCPA labeling requirements.
- "Spice" The FDA definition of spice can indicate the presence of any number of spices including Allspice, Anise, Basil, Bay leaves, Caraway seed, Cardamon, Celery seed, Chervil, Cinnamon, Cloves, Coriander, Cumin seed, Dill seed, Fennel seed, Fenugreek, Ginger, Horseradish, Mace, Marjoram, Mustard flour, Nutmeg, Oregano, Paprika, Parsley, Pepper, black; Pepper, white; Pepper, red; Rosemary, Saffron, Sage, Savory, Star aniseed, Tarragon, Thyme, Turmeric and many others. If you are managing spice allergies, don't assume that a product is safe if it contains "spice" on the ingredient statement without calling the manufacturer to ask about the safety of the "spice" for your unique allergy issues.
Please note that foods that are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture do not follow the FALCPA labeling requirements with regard to spice.
Lastly, don't forget to check toiletries, cosmetics and everyday household cleaners for the presence of food-derived ingredients as well.
Reviewed by KFA Medical Advisory Team March 2005. Revised February 2007.
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