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If you or someone you know has a food allergy, you are one heck of a warrior! You know what it means to face and overcome the many necessary measures it takes to prevent allergic reactions. And these life-saving practices also require becoming masterfully skilled at reading food labels. If you are just learning how to read a food label to check for allergens, have no fear. This simple guide will help you crack the allergen code and tackle some pretty complex food labels in a matter of seconds.
Explore the eight major food allergens along with our tips below to learn more about allergens and how they are listed on food labels so you can feel confident the next time you place an item in your grocery cart. Caution: Always read the label before you eat! Yes, even if you have eaten the product many times before. Ingredients and manufacturing processes can change at any time and without warning.
1) Voluntary “May contain” statements
Below the ingredient list, you may also notice other “food allergen advisory statements” or precautionary, voluntary language on food labels, such as:
“May contain … ”
“Processed in facility that also processes … ”
“Made on equipment with …”
FDA guidance for the food industry states that food allergen advisory statements should not be used as a substitute for adhering to current good manufacturing practices and must be truthful and not misleading.2 Depending on your reaction and cross-contamination risk severity, it may be best to avoid these products altogether if they contain allergens to which you are sensitized to.
2) Unregulated “free” statements
Product labels can bear these phrases (such as “peanut-free” and “egg-free”) but be made in facilities where the allergens are present.3 Always contact the manufacturer if you are unsure.3
3) Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity
While wheat has to be labelled, other sources of gluten—barley and rye—are not required to be disclosed. This can be particularly scary for people with celiac disease. If that’s you, it’s best to stick with products that are labeled “gluten-free.”
There’s no need to feel anxious every time you step into a grocery aisle. With a little practice, you can become a pro at reading food labels. And if you ever have any doubts, just look it up! Through a quick phone call or online search, many manufacturers will provide additional information about their product’s manufacturing, such as describing their allergen procedures. So, don’t be afraid to get involved and ask for more information about a food label—a little investigating could save a life.