As you will learn, carefully reading and interpreting food labels is a critical skill that people with special dietary needs must develop to ensure they make safe and healthy food choices. Here's some information to help you get started...
The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) helps protect Americans with food allergies and special dietary needs. Improved and clearer food labeling enables individuals to easily identify safe foods. The law applies to all foods regulated by the U.S. FDA that were labeled on or after January 1, 2006.
FALCPA requires that manufacturers clearly disclose whether products contain any of the eight major allergens: dairy, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soy. Ingredient lists must declare the allergen in plain language. Food manufacturers must label food products that contain an ingredient that is or contains protein from a major food allergen in one of two ways: include the name in parenthesis or place the word “contains” followed by the name of the food source from which the allergen is derived. Allergenic ingredients must be listed even if they are present in trace amounts (i.e. in colors, flavors or spice blends) and the specific type of tree nut (i.e. almond, cashew, walnut), fish (i.e. cod, flounder, sole) and shellfish (i.e. crab, lobster, shrimp) must be declared. Visit www.fda.gov to learn more.
While over 160 foods can cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals, there are eight common foods which account for 90% of all food allergic reactions in the U.S.— dairy, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soy. Note that while FALCPA requires that wheat be declared on food labels, other sources of gluten (i.e. barley and rye) are not required to be disclosed.
Gluten is the general name for certain types
of proteins that are found in wheat, barley
and rye and their derivatives. Gluten is
commonly found in breads, pastas and baked
goods, but it may also be present in soy sauce,
licorice, beer, processed meats, cosmetics
and some medications.
The following ingredients are not allowed in any form on a gluten-free (GF) diet: wheat (durum, farina, graham, kamut, semolina, spelt), rye, barley and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye). Malt flavoring and malt vinegar may be derived from barley and should be avoided on a GF diet. Some acceptable GF grains and flours are: rice, corn, potato, tapioca, beans, garfava (chick pea and fava bean blend), sorghum, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, arrowroot, amaranth, teff, Montina® and nut flours.
It is very important to remember that wheat-free does not necessarily mean that a food is also GF, as it may contain other gluten sources (such as barley or rye). Conversely, if a food is labeled as GF, it cannot contain wheat.
FALCPA does not require manufacturers to declare gluten on food ingredient labels, so it can be very hard to identify gluten-containing foods. The U.S. FDA is required to issue a rule that defines and permits the voluntary use of GF claims on food labels; however, a final rule has not yet been published. In the meantime, independent organizations, like the Gluten- Free Certification Organization (GFCO), have developed GF certification programs to help GF consumers better interpret food labels and find foods they can safely enjoy.
Learn more at www.gfco.org
Many food labels include allergen advisory statements such as “May contain peanuts” or “Manufactured in a facility that also processes peanuts.” These advisory statements are not required under FALCPA and are voluntarily included by food manufacturers to advise consumers of potential risks. These advisory warnings can be very confusing to consumers trying to make smart and safe food choices. The FDA is considering new rules on the use of advisory statements by manufacturers. In the meantime, always call the manufacturers’ toll free number to get your questions and concerns addressed before consuming any questionable foods.
A dedicated facility means that a product is produced in a manufacturing facility that is free from a specific allergen (typically tree nuts or peanuts) and/or gluten. Dedicated facilities offer consumers the highest level of assurance that the foods are safe and free from cross-contamination. If you have questions, contact the manufacturer directly to determine where and how the product is made.
Health Canada, the department of the
Canadian government responsible for
national public health, is revising labeling
regulations to ensure that the most
common food allergens (peanuts, tree
nuts, shellfish, dairy, eggs, fish, soy,
sesame seed, wheat, mustard and
sulfites) are always identified by their
common names, allowing consumers to
easily recognize them. Allergen labeling
regulations are not yet in effect.
Canada does have specific gluten-free labeling regulations. In Canada, GF foods are defined as those that do not contain wheat, including spelt and kamut, or oats, barley, rye or triticale.
Be sure to read all food labels carefully before buying or consuming a product. Manufacturers change product ingredients from time to time, so just because the product was once safe to eat doesn’t mean it will always be. If you have any questions, call the manufacturer’s toll free number.