Allergens and Food Labeling: What You Need to Know

Food allergies are a serious topic for consumers. Deadly serious, in fact. This fact makes it all the more important that your product has the proper labels to disclose any allergens that may be contained.

Approximately 15 million people in the U.S. have food allergies, including 9 million adults, or roughly 4% of the population, and 5.9 million children or 8% (according to a 2007 survey).  Since that survey was completed, the situation has only worsened: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reported that food allergy prevalence among children increased by 50%. In addition, the prevalence of childhood peanut or tree nut allergy has more than tripled.  And the rate of increase among black and Hispanic children has increased even faster than for white children, at 2.1 percent per decade for blacks and 1.2 percent per decade for Hispanics compared to 1% per decade for white youngsters. 

The costs of caring for children with food allergies can be devastating:  American families spend $25 billion on an annual basis on this item alone, including medications, doctor and emergency room visits, and hospitalization.  And this figure doesn’t include the stress to allergic children and their families from lifestyle restrictions that are needed to protect them – stresses that are more pronounced for those that can least afford them, including for low-income families, those that live in rural areas, or who have other health challenges,

What does this mean for food manufacturers?  Among other things, it means that accurate labeling of food products with regard to allergens is regulated by the Federal government.  The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 requires manufacturers to provide information regarding major food allergens.  These include foods or food groups or an ingredient that contains proteins derived from milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts, and/or soybeans.

The full text of the FALCPA may be found HERE

Companies leave themselves vulnerable to injury or wrongful death lawsuits if they don’t adhere strictly to these requirements.   Here are some ways to protect your company’s reputation, its manufacturing licenses and its bottom line. 

  •       Minimize cross-contamination risk by putting rigorous standards and processes in place to separate potential food allergens within a manufacturing facility. If possible, have products containing allergens manufactured in a different facility.
  •       Put a warning notice on labels about other allergens manufactured in the facility.  
  •       Prevent mislabeling; use machine vision inspection systems to ensure that products and their labels are accurately matched.
  •       Respond promptly to any lawsuits or complaints.

Moral of the story:  Food manufacturers need to be proactive about their role in protecting public health.  It’s good for business to pay attention to the fine print and to be sure to label their products accordingly.