If you or a loved one has a food allergy, it’s crucial to know what each meal or food product is made of. The label on any package of food will list out the ingredients included in the product, but sometimes it can feel like an overload of information.
No one wants to decipher what every long-winded ingredient actually means. Luckily, there are rules in place that manufacturers must follow so that you can confidently study the label and determine if the product is safe to consume.
Eight Most Common Food Allergies
The Food Allergen Labeling & Consumer Protection Act requires food labels to specify all their ingredients and call out the eight most common food allergens if they are included in the product’s recipe. These eight allergens are:
- Shellfish (crustacean)
- Tree nuts
When a food product contains any of these eight ingredients, the label must clearly state the inclusion of the ingredient.
How to Scan the Food Label
There are three ways a food label can inform you of an allergy-inducing ingredient.
Look for the allergen’s common name in the ingredients list
The ingredients list will use the allergens common name, making it easy for readers to identify it in the block of text on the label. Instead of Prunus dulcis, the label will simply say “almond.”
Find the separate line that calls out all included allergens
Most labels have started adding a line below the larger ingredients list that indicates if any food allergy used in the product’s recipe. For example, if you look at the ingredients for Oreos, you’ll see a sentence at the bottom stating, “Contains: wheat, soy.”
See the food allergy’s common name in parentheses
Some food labels utilize less common ingredient names, like “sodium hydrogen carbonate” instead of to more recognizable name, “baking soda.” For allergens, you may see an odd word listed among the ingredients, but the common name should follow in parentheses. Examples include:
- Albumin (eggs)
- Whey (milk)
- Arachis (peanuts)
- Lecithin (soy)
- Triticum vulgare (wheat)
What About Cross Contamination?
It’s possible for a food processing plant to handle allergy-free food products and allergy-filled products on the same equipment. In these cases, the food label will provide a disclaimer. Examples to look for include:
- May contain: Soy, wheat
- Manufactured in a facility that also handles eggs, peanuts, milk, and wheat
- May contain traces of tree nuts
For some, cross contamination is a minor consideration, but it could be a major issue for others. Be aware of your level of intolerance and look for disclaimers like these if the ingredients lists do not include any allergens.