With an eye on the food allergy community as a unique group of consumers since 2008, we're on a quest to find and share ways to continue enjoying the good things in life.

12 January 2018

Food Allergy Tip Friday: Allergen-free Claims on Labels

People managing food allergies and other health conditions depend on accurate food labeling. While food labeling in the United States has improved over the last decade or two, there is still room for improvement. 

Only the top 8 most common food allergens are required to be listed by name, leaving those with less common allergies to decipher the rest of the ingredients.  Sometimes ingredients have mysterious names, such as "spices" or "fruit juice" or "natural flavoring". What do those ingredients actually contain? Those with non-top allergies have no choice but to contact the food manufacturers to ask. They may or may not get an answer.

Then there are the allergen free-from claims on food packages, which are still completely unregulated. Free-from claims on labels mean different things to different manufacturers, and can be interpreted in varying ways by consumers.  When a baked good from a bakery states "gluten free" or "nut free", does that mean the facility is gluten-free or nut-free, or just that particular product? There is no uniformity, and what's alarming is there is a difference! A food made in facility where there is gluten or nuts or any allergen may possibly contain trace amounts of that allergen, and consumers should be able to decide if they want to take that risk. Misleading free-from labels abound, especially in baked goods. If a bakery does not indicate that they are a dedicated facility, they probably are not. Don't hesitate to ask questions!

Some food manufacturers take extra measures to make their labeling clear to consumers. Take a look at the below photos of some of Enjoy Life Foods' newest products. The box has a listing stating the 15 foods Enjoy Life's Crispy Grain & Seed Bars are free from, and also has a separate statement underneath the ingredients stating "Made in a dedicated nut and gluten free facility."  This voluntary statement leaves no confusion about which allergens the facility is free of, and makes determining the safety of this food easier for consumers with food allergies.

It is so easy for food manufacturers to make their labeling clearer, as Enjoy Life Foods has. 

One tool which may help consumers with food allergies make more sense of labels is SmartLabel (http:///www.smartlabel.org). It is a tool whereby consumers can scan in a food label, and ingredient and other information from the manufacturer is provided, often more than what you can see on the label. There is a tab for manufacturers to provide information, such as voluntary information about the manufacturing facility and possible cross-contamination. Any time food manufacturers go above and beyond FDA's labeling requirements, they really deserve acknowledgement. By the same token, when manufacturers purposefully provide vague labeling, they should receive feedback requesting clarification. As the saying goes, knowledge is power, and consumers with food allergies should be able to easily locate information to determine if a food is safe or not. It shouldn't be a mystery.

Disclosure: Food Allergy Buzz has received free products from Enjoy Life Foods.

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