Reading labels for allergens


Check labels for allergens
Those recently diagnosed with food allergies will have to learn an entirely new method of shopping for food: read the label first for potential allergens. In the US and many other countries, the top eight allergens are required by law to be clearly identified in a food product. These allergens include:

  • Wheat
  • Milk
  • Soy
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts
  • Fish
  • Shellfish

Please be aware that “wheat” does not include other gluten-containing grains and that “milk” does not encompass all types of dairy products. Such things may be labelled but are not required to be labelled. Always read carefully.

What foods should be labeled?

All packaged food is required to be labelled with these allergens. The label should list the type of allergen (for example, “nuts (walnut)”) in addition to any ingredient that contains protein from these allergens including flavourings, colourings, and other additives (i.e. “caramel coloring (from wheat)).

Please note that fresh meat and produce in addition to particular highly refined oils are not required to be labelled. Single-ingredient foods are generally safe from additional allergens.

What is cross-contamination?

Cross-contamination occurs when an allergen is introduced to a food item during processing. A label may simply read “May contain nuts” if it may have come into contact with nuts during the processing of that food, or it may be more specific such as “processed on same line with wheat and/or eggs”. This includes “same facility” warnings. You will have to determine for yourself if potential same-line and same-facility cross-contamination is a concern for your allergy situation.

If you have a concern about potential cross-contamination of a food product, it is best to contact the manufacturer for clarification.

Food safety and label-reading

Just because a food had a clean label last time you bought it doesn’t mean the ingredients are the same this time. Production conditions and/or ingredients may change at any time. Always, always read the label before purchasing any food.