7. Understand what the FDA requires food manufacturers to disclose on their labels as well as what is optional to disclose ("FALCPA")

Here’s what the FDA requires food manufacturers to disclose to you:
  1. They must list every ingredient that is actually contained in the food.

  2. For every ingredient that either (a) is one of the top 8 food allergens (defined below) or (b) contains the protein of one of the top 8 food allergens, they have to identify it on the label in language that is easy for the consumer to recognize. There are a couple different ways that food manufacturers can comply with this, but the result is very good disclosure about whether the food actually contains one of the top 8 allergens.
As an example, if a food contains the ingredient albumin, the manufacturer may state that on the label, but they also have to state that albumin is an egg product. The word “albumin” must be followed by language such as “(egg)” or “(an egg protein)” or “(derived from eggs)” or some similar language that discloses that this food contains eggs.

A couple of important Q&A’s to be aware of:

Do food manufacturers have to list the food allergens in boldface? No. But some do anyway.

Do food manufacturers have to list the food allergens separately in a special line below the ingredient list? No. But some do anyway.

Does the consumer have to read the whole entire ingredient list every time they shop to make sure the foods they are buying do not contain the food allergens they are trying to avoid? YES!

Why? Because:
  1. Labels are not consistent from one manufacturer to another. Some manufacturers highlight food allergens in boldface, and others do not. Some list food allergens separately at the bottom of the ingredient list, and others do not. You cannot just scan for boldface or a separate list underneath the ingredients. You must read every word of every label every time you shop.

  2. Manufacturers change their ingredients all the time. Read every label every time you shop.
Don’t worry – you’ll get used to it. You’ll be “scanning” these lists in record time soon once you clearly understand what the labels do and don’t have to disclose.

Some background: In 2004, the FDA passed the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act “FALCPA” which basically made food labels easier for consumers to read and made it easier to determine whether a food actually contains any of the top 8 food allergens (defined below). The requirements went into effect on January 1, 2006, so if you happen to have any foods in your house that were manufactured and labeled before 2006, we recommend that you throw them out.

Why does FALCPA only apply to the top 8 food allergens? Because although there more than one hundred potential food allergens, the top 8 account for the vast majority of diagnosed food allergies and are the most likely to cause a severe reaction.

The top 8 food allergens covered by FALCPA:
Crustacean shellfish
Tree nuts

Because of FALCPA, food allergy labeling has come a long way. It is now very easy for consumers to read a food label (labeled after Jan. 1, 2006) and know if the food actually contains any of the top 8 food allergens. This is great news!

But, we don’t want you to get too comfortable, because there is more to managing food allergies than simply knowing what food allergens are actually in your food. We keep using the words “actually contains” and “actually in” – there is a reason for that. As the parent of a food allergic child, there are a few other terms you need to become familiar with:

May contain …
May contain trace amounts of …
Manufactured in a facility that also manufactures products containing …
Produced on equipment that also produces products containing …

All of the wording above essentially means the same thing: food allergens might accidentally or inadvertently get into your food. This type of language is a warning that your food might contain the food you’re allergic to, even though it is not an actual ingredient. When we talk about this topic at home, we use the word “exposure” to cover all of these various types of language; so we’ll do that here just to simplify things.

Your food might contain certain allergens simply because of where or how it was manufactured or packaged.

Confusing? Yes. But you have to understand this so that you can strive for total avoidance of your food allergen. We think this is, hands down, the trickiest part of trying to manage food allergies.

Does FALCPA require food manufacturers to use “accidental exposure” type of language? No.

Does FALCPA require food manufacturers to disclose to consumers whether the food was made near other food that contains any of the top 8 allergens? No.

Does FALCPA require food manufacturers to disclose whether there is a possibility that a top 8 food allergen that is not an actual ingredient might inadvertently be in the food? No.

Why not? Good question: Why doesn’t FALCPA require manufacturers to disclose the possibility of exposure or cross-contact? We do not know for sure, but our suspicion is that it is because inadvertent exposure to an allergen is extremely hard to manage. Some food manufacturers make all of their products at one facility. Depending on what they make, the same processing or packaging equipment might be used to make different products. Some of these products might have a top 8 allergen as an ingredient and others might not.

Food manufacturers (including Egg-Free Epicurean) are required by the FDA to follow “Good Manufacturing Practices” or “GMP” which details the steps they must follow to keep the facility as clean as possible and the food as fresh as possible. It states that manufacturers must take whatever precautions are necessary to ensure that their foods are not contaminated by any source, which could be interpreted to include food allergens that are not actual ingredients in the food. However, food allergens are not specifically stated as a source of contamination within the GMP. Additionally, people carry out these guidelines, and it’s human nature that mistakes sometimes are made.

In our opinion, if a food manufacturer states on the label - in any kind of language such as the examples given above – that the food might have exposure to your food allergen, do not eat it.

Many people think exposure-type language on food labels is paranoia by the food manufacturer and should just be ignored by the consumer. We disagree. Based on our research, we believe that if a food manufacturer has gone to the trouble to warn you about accidental exposure to food allergens WHEN THE FDA DOES NOT EVEN REQUIRE THEM TO DISCLOSE THE RISK OF ACCIDENTAL EXPOSURE, then there is a true risk that your food might actually contain trace amounts of that allergen. Please protect yourself by deciding not to eat these products.

If you would like some examples of how exposure might happen, please click on this link.

How Do I Find Out More About FALCPA?
There is an excellent summary of FALCPA on the FDA’s website. It will most likely answer any remaining questions you may have regarding food labeling. It also contains very thorough Q&A which interprets the legal language of FALCPA. We believe this is required reading for the parents of food allergic children. Also, we recommend that older, more independent food allergic children read this summary for themselves.  

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