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FDA to Take a Close Look at Food Labels; ‘May Contain’ Labels Don’t Do Enough to Protect People With Allergies

A food allergy is an immune system response to a food that the body mistakenly believes is harmful. Although someone could be allergic to any food, such as fruits, veggies, and meats, there are eight foods that account for 90% of all food-allergic reactions, including egg, peanut, tree nut (walnut, etc.), fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat. Food allergies are very common, effecting more than 12 million Americans, and have a wide range in severity, from a simple rash breakout to death. When grocery shopping, people with food allergies do their best to carefully read food labels to avoid a possible adverse reaction. However, many people feel the labels reading ‘may contain’ instead of clearly stating specifically what is in the product leaves to much room for a potential reaction.

Critics believe that it’s not too much to ask for food companies to tell people whether or not something is in the food they are trying to sell them. People think food companies need guidelines regarding how to label, so it is easy and helpful to consumers.

Right now, the ‘may contain’ claim puts the responsibility on the consumer instead of the food companies. Food companies use this claim to help cover themselves because of the possibility of cross-contamination in factories. One food company can produce several products in an enormous factory. One of their products contains nuts and another product all the way on the other side of the factory does not, so the company goes ahead and uses the ‘may contain’ claim so they aren’t responsible if a highly allergic person has a reaction from consuming the nut-free product. This current system of placing advisory labels on products just in case that happens allows “very risk-averse” companies to put a label on any food that has a chance of containing an allergen, thereby avoiding a lawsuit.

The FDA is taking consumers feedback and trying to help provide companies with criteria for consumer-friendly labeling. The bottom line is, food companies should tell the consumer exactly what the product contains; therefore the consumer is properly educated and can avoid having an allergic reaction. What are your thoughts?

October 9th, 2008

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