In less than a year, food manufacturers throughout the country must alter the ingredient listings on their food labels to clearly and concisely define allergens present in a product. The legislation that brought about this mandate, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA), marks the first time the U.S. government has passed labeling rules regarding allergens.
According to Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the new labeling law seeks to end any consumer confusion about whether or not a product contains one or more of the eight major food allergens: milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans. The abundance of many of these allergens in bakery foods requires special attention by wholesale bakers.
The U.S. Congress passed the legislation requiring allergen labeling because of persuasive statistical and investigative data. Every year about 30,000 individuals require emergency room treatment and 150 people die because of allergic reactions to food, FALCPA states. There is no cure for food allergies, which makes labeling them even more important. FALCPA estimates that about 2% of adults and 5% of infants and young children in the United States have food allergies.
Compounding these statistics is an FDA allergen review of foods manufactured in Minnesota and Wisconsin. In 1999, the administration randomly tested bakery foods, ice cream and candy for allergens in these two states. The review showed that 25% of the sampled food failed to list peanuts or eggs as ingredients on the food labels.
This issue was amplified by a recent study that showed "many parents of children with a food allergy were unable to correctly identify in each of several food labels the ingredients derived from major food allergens," FALCPA states.
For example, many people are unaware that casein is an ingredient derived from milk and albumin is derived from eggs. By eating foods with these ingredients, individuals unknowingly could consume ingredients they are allergic to, even if the ingredient listing is read carefully. Spices, flavorings and certain colors also pose problems for consumers with allergens because these ingredients either are declared as a class, or are exempt from ingredient labeling requirements.
To alleviate confusion about a product's allergens or how they are labeled, FALCPA defines mandatory rules for labeling foods that contain allergenic substances. If a food possesses one of the eight major allergens, the ingredient list must clearly define this ingredient in one of two ways:
FALCPA also requires bakers to label spices, flavorings and certain colors in the same fashion when the ingredient contains an allergen source.
FALCPA applies to any food that is labeled on or after Jan. 1, 2006. For more information of food allergens and the labeling of these ingredients, visit www.fda.gov