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Clearer Food Labels Warn of Allergy Risks

Voluntary standards may not be followed by all

American food producers have developed new guidelines for labeling products so that people with food allergies or intolerances can avoid products that might cause reactions. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration applauded the industry initiative. However, the new guidelines will be voluntary so consumers may still need to read some labels closely.

The new guidelines call for simpler wording to describe food ingredients. For example, "casein" would be listed as "milk" and "albumen" as "eggs." Manufacturers also are discouraged from including blanket warnings, such as "May contain peanuts," which some companies routinely use as a hedge against lawsuits.

Critics of the new labeling guidelines say they're an effort to pre-empt government regulations that would carry penalties for noncompliance, says a news service story in The Record of Bergen, N.J. However, food industry representatives say they'll be pressured by consumers to follow the guidelines.

Better food labeling also might benefit people who don't have food allergies. A feature from CHEKTV in Victoria, Canada, says that food allergies in children limit an entire family's ability to travel, even the freedom to order take-out. The article has tips to avoid potential problems.

Eight foods cause 90 percent of food reactions: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (e.g., walnuts, pecans and almonds), fish, soy, shellfish and wheat. Of these, peanuts are the most likely to produce severe, even fatal reactions, although scientists can't explain why. Some doctors even advise mothers who have a family history of any allergy to avoid eating peanuts while breast feeding because proteins from the peanuts can be passed to babies in breast milk, CBC News reports.

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