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Food Allergy Labels Too Vague

FDA Hearing Examines Need to Simplify Allergy Warning Labels on Food

Food Safety

Industry groups and FDA officials emphasized that advisory labels are not a replacement for "good manufacturing practices" that curb the risk of cross-contamination.

Alison Bodor, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs for the National Confectioners Association, urged the FDA to establish allergen "thresholds," which attempt to gauge what levels of an allergen can safely be present in a food without causing an allergic reaction.

She cautioned that thorough cleaning or using separate equipment entirely is unrealistic for many manufacturers, and that despite the vagueness of some companies' warnings, people should heed them carefully.

Public advocates also testified about the problems allergy sufferers face daily trying to find safe food for themselves and their families.

Anne Carter of the Food Allergy Group of Northern Virginia said some group members are playing Russian roulette with food labels; teenagers and young adults are especially at risk when they start to make food decisions for themselves, she says.

FAAN member Lisa Punt shared a story about her now-teenaged son, who has a severe nut allergy. She recalled how she made sure to have plenty of candy corn at past Halloweens because it was one of the few foods her son could safely eat. But it soon became impossible to find candy corn without advisory warnings.

"Does candy corn really have walnuts, pecans, or cashews in it? Nobody knows," she said.

The FDA is accepting public comments on the issue through Jan. 14, 2009, to help develop its long-term strategy.

"Once we get all those comments in, that will be a major evaluation for the agency," said Barbara Schneeman, PhD, director of the Office of Nutrition, Labeling and Dietary Supplements at the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

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