What You Should Know About Food Allergen Labeling

How can you be sure that the foods you eat are free from your biggest allergens? Thanks to federal food allergen labeling laws, food manufacturing plants are required to step up to the plate and tell you in advance what their pre-packaged foods contain.

Food Allergen Labeling Laws

Food allergen labeling laws require that manufacturers list common allergens on their packaging to help consumers to steer clear of the ingredients that could trigger a reaction. That being said, there is a big catch: not everything is listed there. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA), which went into effect in January of 2006, only regulates the eight major allergic foods and any protein that is derived from these. This is because the majority of food allergies have their roots in their products. Nonetheless, if you have food allergies, there are still many unlisted foods that can also potentially make you sick.

Eight Most Common Food Allergens

Please review the following of allergens that the FALCPA requires be listed on packaging labels.

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Tree Nuts
  • Peanuts
  • Wheat
  • Soybean

The Logistics of Food Allergen Labeling

The current food allergen labeling law requires manufacturers to post this information in easy-to-read language and is applied to pre-packaged foods made in the United States, as well as those that are imported.

Certain foods are immune from these regulations, however. This includes meat, poultry and egg products, although some manufacturers do list the allergen information voluntarily.

Furthermore, how the allergens are listed can vary a little, either indicating the allergen directly in the ingredient list, or adding it immediately after.

Other Things You Should Know

Retail stores, food service establishments, and schools that package and label foods must also follow these food allergen-labeling standards. However, in places where you order food at the counter and have it individually wrapped, the law doesn't require any labeling action.

What This Means

If you suffer from food allergies, the labeling laws can go a long way toward helping you understand what you're consuming and helping you to make safe food choices. That being said, there's still lots of room for questions and different interpretations. Be vigilant about checking the ingredients and ensuring the choices you make are safe.

Be Your Own Advocate

It's essential that you take an active role in educating yourself about the things you eat and drink. Don't be afraid to call manufacturers, ask questions about ingredients, and find out if there's any danger of cross contamination. You'll also need to be your own advocate when you eat in restaurants or take food to go that isn't labeled. By making an effort to avoid your allergens, you can head off the risk of suffering from an allergic reaction. You should also make sure to always carry an epi-pen in case an emergency ever does happen.


The Mayo Clinic

US Dept. of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Services

US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)