Reading food labels is a critical skill to develop when you manage food allergies and other restricted diets. It's like building a muscle. Your skills get stronger the more you use them. In this post, guest author Red Sneakers for Oakley explains a method for reading food labels for allergens that will help you minimize the risk of overlooking one.
When you have food allergies, you need to know every ingredient in every food you eat. That means you need to read ingredients labels on every packaged food item you put in your shopping cart.
Even if you’ve safely eaten the product a hundred times before.
Why is it important to read EVERY food label EVERY time?
Food manufacturers often change ingredients without telling consumers.
Food allergens may be present in places you don’t normally expect to find them.
And this is why you should always “Triple Check.”
That is, you read food labels:
Once at the store before buying the product,
Again when you're putting the food away in your pantry, and
A final time before you serve or eat the product.
We know it can be hard…
The ingredients lists can be long, with unfamiliar, complicated words.
Lighting at the store can be dim, making it hard to see the information.
Sometimes the ink used is white, making the words almost disappear.
Sometimes the ingredients list is buried in the folds of the food wrappers (think candy bars) making it tough to even find.
…but it’s necessary.
You should also read the Precautionary Allergen Labeling (PAL; aka: advisory labeling) most often found below the main list of ingredients and the FDA-regulated ‘Contains’ statement (if the food has one.)
The PAL labeling includes: ‘May contain’ statements; Manufactured on the same equipment as...’ statements; and ‘Produced in the same facility as...’ statements.
Manufacturer use of PAL statements is not required by law or regulation and the wording is not standardized. For example, two manufacturers could disclose that their product is ‘manufactured in a facility that uses your allergens’ and mean entirely different things:
At one manufacturer, two dedicated manufacturing lines — making products with and without your allergens — could be operated in the same room at the facility, increasing the risk of cross contamination because the equipment shares physical space inside the facility.
At another manufacturer, two dedicated manufacturing lines — making products with and without your allergens — could be housed in separate buildings at the 'facility', decreasing the risk of cross contamination because the equipment is housed in two separate locations.
Both manufacturers disclose the same information, but its meaning is different and there is no way to tell unless you call the manufacturer. Calling the manufacturer and asking detailed questions about their manufacturing practices is an important step to consider.
Resources for a Deeper Dive
Here are some additional resources on reading food labels for allergens if you’d like to learn more:
U.S. Food & Drug Administration (U.S. FDA)
Article: "Have Food Allergies? Read the Label"
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI)
Article: "Food Labels: Read It Before You Eat It!"
Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Connection Team (FAACT)
Article: "Examples of Allergen Labeling"
Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE)
Article: "How to Read a Food Label"
Red Sneakers for Oakley seeks to equip you with the best possible data from published sources that can help keep you safe. Thank you @redsneakersforoakley for summarizing this important information and permitting us to share it with the Allergy Force community.
Put on your red sneakers
In memory of Oakley
In support of food allergy awareness
In November 2016, the Debbs Family tragically lost their 11-year-old son, Oakley, to a fatal anaphylactic reaction resulting from a nut allergy. Shortly after Oakley’s death, the family decided to publicly share Oakley’s story to help raise awareness about the dangers of food allergies. They saw a need for awareness and founded the non-profit organization Red Sneakers for Oakley in memory of their son. Oakley wore red sneakers in the multiple sports he played so it was only natural that the family looked to Oakley’s favorite shoes as a powerful symbol to represent the severity of food allergies. Please support @redsneakersforoakley.
Credits: Content courtesy of Red Sneakers for Oakley; image courtesy David Veksler on Unsplash