Phrases used in a precautionary warning do not indicate the level of risk. A label that says “may contain peanuts” is not more likely to contain peanuts than one that says “processed in a facility with peanuts” Many allergists advise avoiding products with precautionary statements as studies show that up to 10 percent of these do contain the allergen in detectable levels.
A product without a precautionary warning is not necessarily safe. The product could have been processed on lines with nuts, milk or another allergen, but the manufacturer chose not to include the voluntary precautionary warning. Most food processors should be able to provide you with this information when contacted directly.
There are exemptions to FALCPA. The allergen law does not apply to meats, whole produce, or to items prepared for individual customers, such as deli sandwiches, salads or bulk foods. Highly refined oils (even peanut or nut oils) are also exempt.
FALCPA only covers the ingredient statement, not claims made on the box. Believe it or not, “non-dairy” can still contain milk. “Peanut-free” or “wheat-free” may simply mean that peanut or wheat has not been added, but cross-contamination with those allergens might still be a concern. At present, there is no regulation for these terms.
It may sound like a lot to remember, but those few extra minutes of insurance will reward your child with a variety of safe foods to enjoy.
Allergic Living magazine columnist Gina Clowes is a certified master life coach, who specializes in the needs of parents of children with food allergies. She is the founder of AllergyMoms.com, an online support group serving thousands of families and professional members worldwide.