Allergens and food labels

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Here are answers to a few common questions about food label requirements.

* What foods are labeled? Any domestic or imported packaged food regulated by the FDA is required to make these labeling changes.

* What's included on the label? The label lists the type of allergen — for example, the type of tree nut (almond, walnut) or the type of crustacean shellfish (crab, shrimp) — as well as any ingredient that contains a protein from the eight major food allergens. The labels also include any allergens found in flavorings, colorings or other additives.

* What foods aren't labeled? Fresh produce, fresh meat and certain highly refined oils do not require listing of potential food allergens on the labels. Foods that may inadvertently come into contact with a food allergen during the growing, harvesting or manufacturing process also are exempt.


In addition to the current food labeling changes, the FDA is working to tighten regulations for manufacturers' use of the term "gluten free" on food labels. Gluten is a protein that occurs in grains such as wheat, barley and rye. This protein can cause a serious reaction (though not an allergic one) in people who have celiac disease, a digestive disorder. About 2 million people in the United States have the disease. Often people with celiac disease are unsure about which foods contain gluten. The FDA will issue standards for what constitutes a gluten-free product by 2008.


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