In 2006, food allergic consumers and the parents of food allergic children in the United States enjoyed a giant leap forward in food allergen labeling. From that time forward, packaged food bound for U.S. sales had to identify which (if any) of the top eight allergens were contained in the ingredients, in "plain English" so that even a young child could read them. Yet, as to be expected, the labeling law has resulted in two steps forward, and one step back. They have tackled whole ingredients, but what about cross-contamination in manufacturing? What about processes that may cause a little bit of those top eight allergens to make their way into the product? This may not be a concern for some, but it's a huge concern for those who have highly sensitive allergies …
In response to this need, many manufacturer's have voluntarily included warnings such as "May Contain …" and "Processed in a Facility with …" Unfortunately, though well-meaning, this unregulated voluntary labeling has led to over 30 different ways of saying "May Contain" on food packages. This variety in wording is causing confusion for those who are trying to find "safe" foods. Many interpret some of the terms as more risky than others, when in reality, they could all pose the same risk.
In response to the confusion, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is hosting a public hearing to discuss what can be done to improve things on the food allergen labeling front. The FDA is using the hearings as a part of their long-term strategy in brining clarity and honesty to labeling practices. Some topics of discussion include the use of statistics to quantify what "trace amounts" means on a particular food label.
Roughly 2 percent of adults and 5 percent of infants and young children in the United States live with food allergies. While the symptoms can range from irritating to life-threatening, approximately 30,000 consumers go to the emergency room each year to get treatment for food allergies and 150 Americans die.