The Problem with Food Allergen Labeling

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Food allergies are unfortunately on the rise. Between 1997 and 2011, food allergies among children increased nearly 50%. With food allergies becoming more common, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) was passed in 2004.

The goal of FALCPA was to help consumers identify major allergens on ingredient labels, therefore preventing the incidence of allergic reactions. Since it covers the eight major food allergens (milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and crustacean shellfish), it has helped a number of people.

Both those who must avoid the foods and those who are parents or caregivers to an individual with food allergies have benefited from the law. Clear labeling on the back of packages has saved consumers time at the grocery store and often the frightening effects an allergic reaction can cause. However, FALCPA is not without its issues.

Allergens Are Excluded

If you have an allergy to a food that isn’t considered a “top 8 allergen,” you still have to check the ingredients label in its entirety, and in some cases, contact the manufacturer to ensure their product will be safe for you to consume. While we cannot expect every single allergen to be included under FALCPA, some of the more common that are left out of the “top 8” should be up for consideration.

Another issue is that highly refined oil that is derived from the top 8 allergens and products made from said oil are not required to be labeled under FALCPA. This is where the waters get murky, as proteins should not remain in highly refined oil after processing, therefore they should not cause an allergic reaction.

However, if you ask allergy sufferers themselves, you’ll find that some report reactions from oils that are derived from a food they are allergic to. Yet these oils are not required to be labeled as allergens. To my knowledge, testing highly refined oils for remaining proteins is not a requirement, and perhaps that’s where the problem lies.

To further support my statement that oils can cause a reaction, I polled a group of soy allergy sufferers to get a better idea of just how common a reaction to soybean oil is. Here are the results:

Soybean oil Poll 1-11-2018 Edited

Other Exclusions

FALCPA has other exclusions that may be problematic as well. The law doesn’t apply to certain products that may also include major allergens or ingredients derived from the top 8 allergens, such as:

  • prescription and over-the counter drugs
  • personal care items (such as cosmetics, shampoo, mouthwash, toothpaste, etc.)
  • Kosher foods
  • pet foods, supplements and supplies
  • any made-to-order restaurant food placed in a wrapper or container
  • any food product regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (meat, poultry and processed egg products)
  • any food product regulated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (alcoholic drinks, spirits, beer and tobacco products)

Food allergies can sometimes result in contact or airborne reactions, so as you can imagine, the exclusions in The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act may pose some problems for consumers. Until the excluded items are included in FALCPA, the best we can hope for is that manufacturers and restaurants decide to label allergens and derivatives of top allergens on their own accord.

What are your thoughts on FALCPA and its exclusions? Please share your opinion with us in the comments section below.

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