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Food Allergies: Reducing the Risks

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Major Food Allergens continued...

A major food allergen is defined as one of the following foods or food groups, or is an ingredient that contains protein derived from one of the following foods or food groups:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts such as almonds, walnuts, and pecans
  • Soybeans
  • Wheat
  • Fish
  • Shellfish such as crab, lobster, and shrimp

"These foods or food groups account for 90 percent of all food allergies in the United States, and FALCPA focuses on IgE-related food allergies," according to Luccioli. "This law does not protect everyone with a food allergy, but should protect the majority of people who may have severe allergic responses to foods," he says.

More than 160 different foods have been reported to cause allergies; the list of major allergens in the United States is limited to eight foods. "Other countries may have different foods on their lists because food allergies reflect patterns of consumption," Luccioli says. "For example, in Europe there is a high prevalence of allergies to mustard and celery."

FDA Public Hearing on Labeling

FDA held a public hearing on September 16, 2008, to help the agency determine how manufacturers use advisory labeling for food allergens.

FDA is also evaluating how consumers interpret different advisory labeling statements, as well as what wording is likely to be most effective in communicating the likelihood that an allergen may be present in a food.

"The public hearing was held in part to address labeling that manufacturers voluntarily use because of cross contact concerns," says Felicia Billingslea, director of the Food Labeling and Standards Staff in FDA’s Office of Nutrition, Labeling and Dietary Supplements.

Cross contact may occur during:

  • Harvesting
  • Transportation
  • Manufacturing
  • Processing
  • Storage

Many food manufacturers may try to prevent cross contact through the use of dedicated facilities or dedicated production lines. Also, a variety of advisory statements are used on pack­age labels to indicate possible cross contact. For example, a label might indicate: "Produced in a plant that processes wheat."

FDA asked twelve questions at the public hearing that related to the use of specific advisory statements and advisory labeling in general.

Some of the questions asked were:

  • What specific advisory statements adequately inform consumers of the potential risk of cross contact with allergenic materials?
  • What advisory statements most accurately communicate to consumers and their caregivers the potential risk of the presence of an allergen? Why?