Food Allergen Labeling: What Does it All Mean?

Food Allergen Labeling

If you have a child with food allergies, checking labels is a way of life. Did you know that labeling is required by law? The Food Allergen Labeling Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) passed in 2004 and went into effect in 2006. If you are living with food allergies in the home, know what this means for food allergen labeling, what you can expect to see on labels, and what you won’t see.

What Is the FALCPA of 2004?

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the law amended the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to require that food labels clearly include a declaration that a major food allergen is present in the ingredients. This makes it easier for people to figure out if a major allergen is in a product, because ingredient lists can be confusing. For instance, a food may list whey as an ingredient, but if you don’t know that whey comes from milk, you may not know that it includes a milk allergen.

The food allergen labelling law requires that all food labels include this statement about the presence of any major food allergen. This means that the top eight allergens have to be identified: eggs, milk, fish, shellfish, soy, wheat, peanuts and tree nuts. No other allergens are required to be labeled, so if your child is allergic to sesame, you still have to search the ingredient list.

Food Allergen Labeling Includes Many Types of Foods

The law covers all foods over which the FDA has control. This means that all conventional and packaged foods, supplements, infant formulas and medical foods are covered and must be labeled for allergens. Any of these foods that are produced outside the U.S. but intended for sale here are also covered. Food served in restaurants also requires food allergen labeling.

Where you may run into a problem is with some locally-produced foods. Be extra careful with these to read the ingredient list and ask whoever made it about allergens. Also not covered by the FDA or FALPCA are medications, hygiene products or USDA-regulated foods like poultry, meat and eggs. Fresh produce, referred to as food in its natural state, is not covered by the law either. Pet products are also not covered under the law. Another exemption is any food placed into a container after being ordered, like a sandwich from a food stand.

Does Food Allergen Labeling Include Gluten?

Although celiac disease is not technically an allergy, gluten is often included in lists of food allergens. Gluten is not included in FALCPA, but a ruling by the FDA in 2013 set standards for any food or product labeled as gluten-free. In other words, if a food is labeled as such it has to meet a defined standard. That standard is that there can be no more than 20 parts per million of gluten in a food labeled gluten-free.

Are Additives and Colorings Included in Food Allergen Labeling?

All added flavors and colorings, and other types of food additives, are included under the law. If any of these additives has a major food allergen in it, it must be clearly stated on the label. Processing aids are also included. These are products used to make a food, but not included as ingredients. For instance, a material used to keep food from sticking to a container is a processing aid, but not an ingredient. If it includes a major allergen, it has to be labeled.

Being able to read food labels for allergens is important, but it is tricky too. The food allergen labeling requirements set out by the FDA help, but they are not totally inclusive. As the parent of a food-allergic child it is important to understand the requirements and what they mean, but also the limitations. If you know what the law does not cover or include, you can learn to look for those loopholes and better protect your child.

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