How to Read a Label In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires food manufacturers to list the eight most common ingredients that trigger food allergies. Most other countries have similar rules. In the United States, information about food allergies has to be written in simple terms adults and older children can understand. (Mayo Clinic, 2011).
The Food Allergen Labeling & Consumer Protection Act of 2004, essentially requires food labels on products manufactured after January 2006 clearly identify the above mentioned Big 8 food allergens. It is important to note the specification made on the following allergens:
Tree Nut Allergy- the specific tree nut must be named
Fish Allergy- the specific fish species must be named
Crustacean Shellfish Allergy- the specific species must be named *Note: Mollusks (i.e. clams, oysters, etc.) do not qualify for inclusion, and are not covered by this act
FALCPA requires labeling in at least ONE of the following ways:
1- In the ingredient list, for example: milk, egg, or soy;
2- Parenthetically, following the food protein derivative, for example: casein (milk);
3- Below the ingredient list in a "contains" statement, for example: Contains: milk, wheat.
*Note: DO NOT rely on "contains" statement for avoidance of allergen, it is required to only list in ONE of the three ways listed above.
Any amount of a major food allergen that is an ingredient, or used in processing, must be labeled, even if it is only a minor ingredient such as in a spice, flavoring, coloring, additive, or used merely as a processing aid in a product. HOWEVER, highly processed oils (i.e. soy) are exempt.
The law only applies to the eight foods/food groups that are considered the "major allergens". For allergies to other foods (i.e. seeds, garlic, and others) you still need to call the manufacturer to know if ingredients labeled with non-specific terms (i.e. "spice", "natural flavoring") contain a food you are avoiding.
Advisory labeling such as "may contain [allergen]" or "produced in a facility that also produces [allergen]" is voluntary and not covered by law. Therefore, the absence of a "may contain" statement doesn't mean that there is no risk of cross-contamination. Only intentional ingredients need to be listed. (Food Allergy Initiative, 2011).