Why You Should Check Food Labels for Potential Allergens


I recently read an article about a young man who suffered a deadly reaction by merely eating something he was used to eating, even though it came with a warning. Many would argue that he was taking a risk; others may not.  One thing for certain, I always read the labels for the presence of allergens.

I’m one of the 15 million Americans who have a food allergy.  I’ve been medically diagnosed by a Board Certified Allergist.  I’m allergic to crustacean shellfish—shrimp, crab and lobster—that aren’t likely in many packaged foods.  But, nonetheless, I’m ever diligent about reading labels.

I’m eager to read the allergen declaration statement.  This is the reality of the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA), which requires that the labels of foods (including conventional foods, dietary supplements, infant formula, and medical foods) containing major food allergens (milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat and soy) note the allergen in plain language, either in the ingredient list or via:

  • The word “contains,” followed by the name of the major food allergen—e.g., “contains milk, wheat”
  • The ingredient list in parentheses—e.g., “albumin (egg)”

(Source:  Food Allergy Research and Education)

FALCPA has made it easier for food-allergic individuals like myself to know when an allergen is present in a product.

But there are times when the presence of allergens is not part of the ingredient, or when the product may have been in contact with allergens at some point in the plant.  Therein lies the “may contain” statement.  They sometimes read “may contain peanuts” or “processed in a facility that also manufactures peanut products,” etc.

For some people, these declarations on labels might be confusing, but they present an opportunity to learn more and get educated about these products.

According to FARE, “If you are unsure whether or not a product could be contaminated, you should call the manufacturer to ask about their ingredients and manufacturing practices.”  When all else fails, or if you don’t have the time, don’t take the chance.  Find another favorite food or product that clearly identifies the allergen or not.

No food, no matter how tasty, is worth the risk.

For more information, check out Managing Food Allergies from FARE.