Food allergies can be life-threatening, making it important for consumers with known food allergies to be aware of what’s in their foods. USA’s Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA) helps consumers avoid specific food allergens by requiring food labels to clearly identify the presence of the “big 8” food allergens or any proteins derived from them.
The Big 8 Allergens Must Be Identified on Food Packaging Labels
According to the FDA, the following food allergens are the most common of the more than 160 foods that cause allergic reactions in people with food allergies. They are also responsible for about 90 percent of all allergic reactions to foods:
- Crustacean shellfish
- Tree nuts
Three of the big 8 food allergens are considered major food allergens: fish, crustacean shellfish, and tree nuts. In these cases, the specific type of tree nut or species must be declared.
To comply with FALCPA’s labeling requirements for packaged foods that contain any of the big 8 food allergens, make sure that the ingredient is declared.
- If the allergen’s food source name is part of the ingredient’s usual name (such as buttermilk), no further listing is necessary so long as the ingredient is listed.
- If the allergen’s food source name does not contain the ingredient’s usual name (such as whey, flour, or lecithin), you must either put the food source’s name in parentheses — ie, whey (milk) — or place a statement that says, “Contains Milk, Wheat, and Soy” (using the common names of the allergens the product contains) near the ingredient list and in the same font and size.
- Note that these rules apply to food sources that are in the food as well as contained in ingredients of the food.
FALCPA does not require advisory warnings such as “May contain…” or “Processed in a facility that also processes…” Should you opt to use such language, it must be truthful and not misleading.
Listing Other Food Allergens on Packaged Food Labels
While the big 8 food allergens account for 90 percent of allergic reactions, many manufacturers opt to include other food allergens on their food packaging labels. Sesame is a known food allergen that must be listed on food labels in other countries including Canada, Australia and the European Union but not in the USA. “Free from” statements are also commonly used to indicate ingredients that a food lacks such as dairy or gluten.
According to DuraFast Label Company, in-house label printing is one way to educate consumers and stay ahead of food labeling regulations. For example, by printing food labels on demand, should FDA rules change, compliance is a simple matter of editing the label design file. Meanwhile, food producers can easily add free from statements to better distinguish their products in the marketplace.
Educating consumers about the presence of the big 8 food allergens is required for all packaged foods sold in the USA that are regulated by the FDA with the exception of poultry, most meats, certain egg products, and most alcoholic beverages. This isn’t just a food labeling requirement, it’s a life-saver.