August 19, 2009
Study: Allergen Labeling Not Clear Enough
A study recently published online in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology concludes that better allergen labeling is warranted. Here's the abstract:
Background The Food Allergy Labeling and Consumer Protection Act became effective January 1, 2006, and mandates disclosure of the 8 major allergens in plain English and as a source of ingredients in the ingredient statement. It does not regulate advisory labels.
Objective We sought to determine the frequency and language used in voluntary advisory labels among commercially available products and to identify labeling ambiguities affecting consumers with allergy.
Methods Trained surveyors performed a supermarket survey of 20,241 unique manufactured food products (from an original assessment of 49,604 products) for use of advisory labels. A second detailed survey of 744 unique products evaluated additional labeling practices.
Results Overall, 17% of 20,241 products surveyed contain advisory labels. Chocolate candy, cookies, and baking mixes were the 3 categories of 24 with the greatest frequency (≥40%). Categorically, advisory warnings included “may contain” (38%), “shared equipment” (33%), and “within plant” (29%). The subsurvey disclosed 25 different types of advisory terminology. Nonspecific terms, such as “natural flavors” and “spices,” were found on 65% of products and were not linked to a specific ingredient for 83% of them. Additional ambiguities included unclear sources of soy (lecithin vs protein), nondisclosure of sources of gelatin and lecithin, and simultaneous disclosure of “contains” and “may contain” for the same allergen, among others.
Conclusion Numerous products have advisory labeling and ambiguities that present challenges to consumers with food allergy. Additional allergen labeling regulation could improve safety and quality of life for individuals with food allergy.
Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 2009, Vol. 124, No. 2, pp. 337-341 “Audit of manufactured products: Use of allergen advisory labels and identification of labeling ambiguities” Authors: M.M. Pieretti, D. Chung, R. Pacenza, T. Slotkin, and S.H. Sicherer
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