Back-to-school time is upon us and that means that besides the mad dash for school supplies it’s also time to start thinking about what’ll go in those lunch boxes. If you’ve got a school-aged child, you’ve probably been affected by food allergies — whether your child has a food allergy or one of your child’s classmates does. As more schools become no-nut zones and there is an increased awareness about allergens of all kinds, it certainly becomes a challenge to navigate the grocery aisles.
I’m here to help. I’m going to give you a quick lesson on label allergy statements — what to look for and what they mean.
First of all, let’s go over some legal-stuff. In the US, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act or FALCPA, requires disclosure when any of the “top 8” allergens are in the ingredients of a product. The label must state the allergen’s common name and not a scientific name. According to the FALCPA the top 8 allergens are: peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, dairy, fish, shellfish and eggs.
It’s important to keep in mind that this law requires food manufacturers to identify only those allergens that are in the ingredients of the product, not allergens that might also be present in the manufacturing facility.
Some manufacturers voluntarily disclose the allergens that are present in their facilities however others do not and they are not required by law to do so. If you don’t see a facility allergen statement on the label it doesn’t mean the facility is allergen free. To be sure the product is appropriate for your child (or you for that matter) it’s always a good idea to contact companies directly to check what allergens may be in their facility.
You’ll see voluntary statements on most of our 365 Everyday Value® and Whole Foods Market™ brand products. There are a couple of exceptions to this, such as when there’s not enough label space, so if you don’t see an allergen statement on the package please call or email me and the Customer Information team so we can double check the product for you.
Here’s a quick rundown of the three statements you’ll see on most of our 365 Everyday Value® products:
- CONTAINS [ALLERGEN(S)] – The allergen is present in the ingredients of the product.
- PRODUCED IN A FACILITY THAT PROCESSES [ALLERGEN(S)] – The allergen is not in the ingredients, but it is present in the facility. Manufacturers use Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) to keep allergens separate from non-allergenic ingredients. GMPs include (but are not limited to): thoroughly cleaning machinery between processing runs and the use of scheduling to segregate ingredients. However, even with GMPs in place, if there is an allergen in the facility, there is always a small chance it could end up in the finished product.
- MAY CONTAIN [ALLERGEN(S)] – The allergen is not in the ingredients but even with GMPs in place cross contamination is unavoidable at some point in the manufacturing process. We advise customers with an allergy to NOT consume products that “MAY CONTAIN” their allergen. You’ll see “MAY CONTAIN” statement on many chocolate products and dry baking mixes because there is an inherent risk of cross-contamination for those types of products.
I know it’s not easy but I hope this little lesson helps ease the back-to-school burden and the worries about shopping with food allergies. If you need more information on food allergies, the FDA’s Food Allergy Fact Sheet for Consumers is really helpful as are the resources from Food Allergy Research & Education.
How do you navigate the challenges of grocery shopping with food allergies?