Nearly 32 million Americans have a food allergy, so learning how to read food labels is an essential part of keeping yourself and your family safe from allergens. A food allergy is an abnormal immune response to a particular protein found in a specific food. When someone with a food allergy consumes that food, their immune system mistakenly identifies the food protein as harmful and triggers an allergic reaction.
Symptoms of an allergic reaction may range from mild, such as hives or itching, to severe, including anaphylaxis, a life-threatening reaction that may cause breathing difficulties and a drop in blood pressure. Therefore, it’s important to know what ingredients you are consuming. When searching for foods that do not contain a particular allergen, there are several things you should look out for.
Tips on Reading Food Allergy Labels
If you have a food allergy, it is imperative to know how to read food labels. To help you better understand what’s in the foods you’re eating, Northeast Allergy has compiled these four helpful tips to assist you in reading food labels:
1. Read the Entire Label
Taking the time to read the entire label can help you avoid a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Food allergens can be hidden in ingredients that may have different names or be present in trace amounts due to cross-contamination. Reading the entire label, including the ingredient list and any warnings about potential cross-contamination, may help you identify potential allergens and decide whether it is safe to consume a certain product. Moreover, it’s crucial to read the label every time, even if you’ve purchased the product before, as ingredients and manufacturing processes can change.
2. Look for Common Allergens
According to the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA), the following are the eight most common allergenic foods. These foods make up about 90% of all food-related allergic reactions in the United States:
- Crustacean shellfish
- Tree nuts such as walnuts, almonds, and pecans
Under FALCPA, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires companies to identify any of the above foods in a product’s ingredient list. If a product contains any of these common allergens, it must be clearly stated on the food label. This is done by requiring the allergen to be listed in plain language on the ingredient list or by using a “contains” statement beneath the ingredient list. Oftentimes, these foods are bolded, italicized, or underlined to make them easier to spot.
3. Be Aware of Cross-contamination
Cross-contamination occurs when an allergen is unintentionally transferred to a product that does not contain the allergen during the manufacturing or preparation process. This may happen through shared equipment, utensils, or surfaces or when an allergen is present in the air or on the hands of food handlers.
Reading the label for any warnings about potential cross-contact with allergens, such as labels with phrases like “may contain” or “processed in a facility that also processes,” is vital in avoiding cross-contamination. Additionally, it’s a good idea to communicate your allergy to anyone preparing your food, whether that be a restaurant staff member or a friend. They can take steps to prevent cross-contamination, such as using separate utensils or equipment and washing their hands thoroughly.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
If you’re unsure about a product or ingredient, don’t hesitate to ask for help. This could mean consulting with an allergist or registered dietitian to develop a safe and nutritious diet or asking a restaurant staff member to check if a menu item contains any allergens. Asking for help and advocating for your health may allow you to better manage your allergies and avoid potential allergic reactions.
Treat Food Allergy at Northeast Allergy
If you or someone you know has a food allergy, it’s critical to minimize the risk of exposure. At Northeast Allergy, our expert allergists can help you identify your specific allergens, develop a management plan, and provide ongoing support and care. From diagnostic testing to customized treatment options, we’re committed to helping our patients achieve a better quality of life. So don’t let food allergies hold you back. Schedule an appointment with Northeast Allergy today and take control of your health.