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FDA: Food Labels Must List Allergens

Ingredients From Major Allergenic Foods Will Be Clearly Noted on Product Labels
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WebMD Health News

Dec. 21, 2005 -- The FDA is requiring food labels to clearly state if food products contain any ingredients that are derived from protein from the eight major allergenic foods.

The new labeling will become effective Jan. 1, 2006. This change came about as a result of the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004. Manufacturers are required to identify in plain English the presence of ingredients that contain protein derived from the following:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Crustacean shellfish (like shrimp)
  • Tree nuts
  • Peanuts
  • Wheat
  • Soybeans

The labeling will list these ingredients or say "contains" followed by the name of the source of the food allergen.

"The eight major food allergens account for 90% of all documented food allergic reactions, and some reactions may be severe or life-threatening," says Robert E. Brackett, PhD, director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. "Consumers will benefit from improved food labels for products that contain food allergens."

Children and Food Allergies

This labeling will be especially helpful to children who must learn to recognize the presence of substances they must avoid, according to the FDA. For example, if a product contains the milk-derived protein casein, the product's label will have to use the term "milk" in addition to the term "casein" so that those with milk allergies can clearly understand the presence of the allergen they need to avoid.

It is estimated that 2% of adults and about 5% of infants and young children in the U.S. suffer from food allergies, the FDA says. About 30,000 consumers require emergency room treatment and 150 Americans die each year because of allergic reactions to food, states the FDA release.

Under the consumer protection act, food manufacturers or retailers are not required to relabel -- or to remove from grocery or supermarket shelves -- any products that do not reflect the additional allergen labeling -- as long as the products were labeled before the effective date, the FDA says.

The FDA cautions that during the transition period, consumers will continue to find -- on grocery store and home shelves -- food products without the revised labels.

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