How to Read a Label When You Have Food Allergies
- When nuts, fish or crustacean shellfish are present, manufacturers must specify what type of nut, fish or crustacean is in the food.
- Highly refined oils derived from major allergens do not need to be declared in the United States, as these are considered safe because they do not contain the allergenic protein. Wondering if peanut or nut oil is safe to eat? See Dr. Scott Sicherer’s important advice on the topic here.
- Hydrolyzed (or, broken down) proteins must always be identified by their common or usual name. ie: hydrolyzed wheat protein, hydrolyzed soy protein, hydrolyzed corn protein.
Which Products Fall Under These Rules?
- Foods packaged, labeled and sold by retail and food-service establishments (e.g. supermarkets and coffee shops) must follow the allergen regulations. However, this does not apply to food that is ordered by a customer and placed in a wrapper or container.
- The regulations do not apply to restaurants.
- There are no mandatory food-allergen labeling requirements for alcoholic beverages. However, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau does have voluntary guidelines.
- The requirements do not apply to meat, poultry or egg products. However, the United States Department of Agriculture encourages widespread voluntary use of allergen labeling consistent with the rules for packaged goods.
If your allergen is NOT one of the Top 8, then reading ingredient labels becomes much more difficult.
You will need to get to know the scientific names for your allergen and where it can hide. For example, maltodextrin can be made from corn.
Also, companies are not required to list the components of ingredients such as “natural flavor”, “spice” or color”, if they are not major allergens. Always call the manufacturer to find out what is in these ingredients, and if you’re ever unsure, avoid the food.
Note that advisory labels, or “May contains” are not required, and are not governed by any regulations. They are helpful for identifying food that might be unsafe, but there are things to be aware of. See: What You Need To Know About “May Contains” for more information.
If you think you have had a reaction to a food that should have been safe contact an FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator in the state where the food was purchased.