Food Labeling For Food Allergens

Posted on 21 Oct 2009 14:47




By Ground Up Strength

In 2004 it was estimated and reported in the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCP ) that approximately two percent of adults and about five percent of infants and young children in the United States suffer from food allergies and each year, roughly 30,000 individuals require emergency room treatment and 150 individuals die because of allergic reactions to food.

Over 160 foods can cause allergic reactions in people with food allergies. But ninety percent of those reactions come from eight major foods or food groups: milk, eggs, fish, Crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans. These eight foods, and any ingredient that contains protein derived from one or more of them, are designated as "major food allergens" by the law. Prior to the FALCP, not only was their no established protection in place for allergic consumers but some of the major allergens were not being listed on food labels at all in some cases.

Under the FALCP manufacturers have choices on how to declare the presence of allergens in their foods. The gist of the rules are that when makers use ingredients that are major food allergens (which are listed by their common names) these must be followed in some way by the major food SOURCE that this ingredient comes from, listed by it's common name.

The Eight Major Food Allergen Sources Identified by the Law

1. Milk
2. Eggs
3. Fish (e.g., bass, flounder, cod)
4. Crustacean shellfish (e.g. crab, lobster, shrimp)
5. Tree nuts (e.g., almonds, walnuts, pecans)
6. Peanuts
7. Wheat
8. Soybeans

The Eight Major Food Allergen Sources Identified by the Law

1. Milk
2. Eggs
3. Fish (e.g., bass, flounder, cod)
4. Crustacean shellfish (e.g. crab, lobster, shrimp)
5. Tree nuts (e.g., almonds, walnuts, pecans)
6. Peanuts
7. Wheat
8. Soybeans

So, for instance, a food that contains whey protein concentrate would have to indicate in some way that this ingredient is derived from MILK, which is one of the eight major food allergens.

One way the maker can do this is to use a "CONTAINS" statement. The contains statement must immediately follow or be right next to the ingredients list and it must be in a type size that is at least the as large as the ingredients (most manufacturers make it larger but some don't). So, in the case of whey protein concentrate, above, a contains statement would follow the ingredients list and say something like "Contains milk" (the capital C is required, by the way). If other food derivatives from food allergens were present, then all the food sources would have to be listed in the Contains statement. Plural or singular terms are allowed, such as "Contains egg" instead of "Contains eggs" as the FDA considers this a reasonable alternative (although I fail to see why manufacturers care whether they use a singular or plural term). See example below:

image of sample food label showing CONTAINS statement for food allergens

Another option is to list the major food source in parenthesis after the common name of the food allergen. Such as "whey protein concentrate (derived from milk)" or some similar language. This is not required if the food allergen already uses the name of the major food source. For example, if an ingredient list says "all-purpose flour" it would have to declare wheat in the parenthesis (or in a Contains statement). But if the list instead reads "wheat flour" there is no need for a statement declaring wheat. In the example below, enriched flour is the first ingredient given and so it is followed by a statement in parenthesis:

image of sample food label showing major allergen food sources in parenthesis after food allergen in ingredients list

If a major food source is already named in the ingredients list it does not have to be named again. So don't get mad if you see an ingredient list that has whey protein and milk on it because they don't declare "from milk" after the whey protein listing. The word milk is already on the label so that should be enough to tell you to avoid it if you need to avoid milk.1

The use of paranthesis declarations and Contains statments CANNOT be mixed and matched and ALL major food allergens MUST be listed on a contains statement regardless of whether the food in named as such in the ingredients list.

The name of the food source of a major food allergen must appear

1. In parentheses following the name of the ingredient.
Examples: "lecithin (soy)," "flour (wheat)," and "whey (milk)"

– OR –


2. Immediately after or next to the list of ingredients in a "contains" statement. Example: "Contains Wheat, Milk, and Soy.
The name of the food source of a major food allergen must appear

1. In parentheses following the name of the ingredient.
Examples: "lecithin (soy)," "flour (wheat)," and "whey (milk)"

– OR –


2. Immediately after or next to the list of ingredients in a "contains" statement. Example: "Contains Wheat, Milk, and Soy.

Another problem is that although food ingredients must be listed by their common names, many ingredients that are DERIVED from the major allergen foods may not be recognized by their common names and so consumers fail to realize that these foods contain ingredients that they are allergic to. Also, as explained above, many ingredients are exempt from being listed and may simply be declared as a class, such as spices, colorings and flavorings. Many of these types of ingredients may well be derived from major food allergens as well.

A good example of such an ingredient is caramel coloring. The FDA classifies caramel color as a color additive that is exempt from certification2. It is defined as a "dark-brown liquid or solid material resulting from the carefully controlled heat treatment of the following food-grade carbohydrates: Dextrose, Invert sugar, Lactose, Malt syrup, Molasses, Starch hydrolysates and fractions thereof, Sucrose.

Starch hydrolysates may include wheat. Wheat contains a protein called gluten. Gluten is a major problem for those with Celiac disease. This is an immune-mediated disease that causes damage to the gastrointestinal tract, central nervous system, and other organs and to stay healthy celiac sufferers must consume a gluten free diet. Which means a wheat free diet. Wheat is ubiquitous in foods at the best of times. Compounding this problem is that other grains may contain gluten as well, such as barley. Malt syrup could be made from barley or a starch hydrosolate could be from barley. See also Celiac Gluten Free Diets: Safety and Nutritional Quality

While it is true that most caramel colors in the U.S. are made from corn syrup but that in no way means that there is any way to predict when a caramel color ingredient may be unsafe, especially since people differ greatly in their reactions to gluten. Caramel color had been called a "gluten free urban legend" by some, but perhaps, if they had a major reaction to a cola they thought assumed was gluten-free, they would feel differently. Cola, as you may know, would be clear without caramel color. This includes Coca Cola®.

And, although, Coke attests that many of their products are gluten-free they by no means claim that ALL of their products are gluten-free but only that, according to their website, those products "meet Codex's definition of gluten-free, which is currently less than 200 ppm (parts per million) (0.02%) gluten." Incidentally, the FDA is working on a definition of "gluten-free" and has proposed levels of 20 PPM not 200.3

Caramel coloring can be listed simply as caramel color or as coloring. There is no requrement for a list of sub ingredients as their would be, for instance, if a cookie dough contained a margarine product. But in the case of caramel coloring a consumer would have no way of knowing if there was a problem without contacting the manufacturer. What many do not realize, however, is that a manufacturer may not be fully aware of the process used to make their caramel coloring either, as they simply order coloring from other manufacturers. One would either have to trust the word of the manufacturer, avoid all products with caramel color (which is near impossible) or sample different products to check for a reaction.

The latter option, as unnatractive as it may seem (although quite realistic), has to take into account that food makers may change their ingredient suppliers at any time so that a product that is gluten-free now may not always be gluten-free.

Does Wheat-Free Mean Gluten-Free?

As should be apparent from the above explanations concerning gluten, a product that contains no wheat ingredients and that declares itself "wheat free" cannot be assumed to be gluten free. The reverse, that a product containing gluten does not have to contain wheat, is also of course true.

First of all there are other grains with that have been demonstrated to cause harmful health effects in individuals who have celiac disease. These grains are wheat (including different varieties such as spelt and kamut), rye, barley, cross-bred hybrids (e.g., triticale, which is a cross between wheat and rye), and possibly oats.

Also, as demonstrated above, there are other ingredients that may contain gluten proteins, such as caramel coloring, even if a product does not specifically use wheat or any of the other grains as an ingredient. Only a product that meats the FDA guidelines for the use of the term "Gluten-Free" and uses this term appropriately should be considered gluten free from a labeling standpoint and even then it is important for the consumer to be aware of suspect ingredients and of the potential for ingredients to be used that the manufacturer misunderstands as being gluten-free.

The reverse, that a product containing gluten does not have to contain wheat, is therefore also true.

Sulfites

Sufites are used in foods as preservatives, antioxidants, antimicrobials, and color stabilizers. Although sulfites, as preservatives, do not fall under the allergen labeling requirements all preservatives must be declared and sulfites even when naturally occuring must be declared if they are present in concentration greater than 10 PPM (parts per million).

Sulfites can pose a major risk to certain individuals and undeclared sulfites, especially in dried fruits have been a major problem. Also, sulfites can be introduced into foods as part of other ingredients but go undeclared, such as in hydrosolated potato proteins that are used for binding and other purposes in foods.

Sulfites cause headaches or stomach cramps for sensitive individuals. Sulfites for asthmatics, however, can sometimes cause labored breathing, anaphylactic shock, and sometimes death.

Several dried fruit products have been recalled due to undeclared sulfites.

Other Pages Related to Food Allergies

See also FDA's page, Food Allergies: What You Need to Know.


© 2016 by Eric Troy and Ground Up Strength. All Rights Reserved. Please contact for permissions.