Facts about food allergens and labeling

March 16, 2009

food label It might be be a little disturbing to know that your trust is often betrayed by manufacturers. Some of us have lactose intolerance while many others are allergic to soy, wheat, peanuts, fenugreek and more. Some of us experience allergies which are mildly irritating while for some others it is life-threatening. And it is the food label that we depend on to find if these allergens are contained in the food that we buy. But what if these names fail to appear on the pack?

Some of the common food allergens are:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Soy
  • Wheat
  • Nuts like peanuts, almonds, cashews and walnuts)
  • Types of fish like bass, cod and flounder.
  • Shellfish like crab, lobster, shrimp

All Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulated foods must contain a list of these allergens on the food product to avoid any allergic reaction in the consumer. Other than these food allergens, the food label ought to contain any protein derived from these and the presence of any flavorings, colorings or other additives.It is mandatory that allergens have to listed even if they occur in small amounts except in fresh produces which do not require the food labels and the list of allergens.

You may have noticed on certain eatable that these warnings are quite vague and ambiguous. Have you seen such a warning on some products? Manufactured in a factory that processes wheator May contain traces of wheat.This means that the product may be cross-contaminated.  Some of us feel very disappointed at these kinds of warnings because we cannot eat them only because they may contain traces of wheat and we are precisely sensitive to it. And we are not sure, and so are not the manufacturers. But what we have to remember is the possibility of accidental contamination that is notmentioned on the product. Some of these above mentioned allergens can be introduced to your food accidentally while manufacturing or packaging it. What then?  It is totally up to the mercy of the manufacturer to include or exclude these warnings.

I have seen the gluten-free label on many products and I never fussed about it because I do not have food allergies. The protein Gluten is very harmful for people with digestive disorders like celiac disease. But it is found that some “gluten-free” products do contain trace amounts of it that is enough to develop allergy in gluten sensitive people. And gluten-free labels are voluntary. The health officials are now getting serious about the issue of food allergens and gluten and are planning to come up with new regulations for the same.

Until then, take some necessary precautions

  1. Identify your allergens as a first step. It is best to keep a list of the food allergens in your purse or wallet when you go to work or eat out. It is for your speedy treatment when you confront an emergency. Anybody who sees it can check you for an allergic reaction quickly even if you cannot communicate.
  2. It is better to avoid foods or drinks that may possibly contain these allergens. But if you are not sure, check the food label thoroughly. If it is a restaurant, ask the in-charge about the ingredients.
  3. Do not hesitate to call the manufacturer in cases of vague warnings.
  4. Food labels and packings update frequently. So even if it is a food that you have consumed before, check again for warnings.
  5. If you are extremely sensitive to certain allergens, take the necessary medications with you. An additional note on how to use it can accompany it if at all an emergency occurs wherein you cannot act yourself or communicate.

What to understand from this is that the world around is not true and safe as it claims itself to be. The wisest and the safest thing you can do is to prepare your own food at home from scratch!!!

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