A Guide To Reading Food Labels: Teach Yourself And Your Kids How To Read Food Allergy Labels

Being Careful – The Need to Read Allergy Food Labels

Children and adults suffer from food allergies, and it’s being more common every year. The number of people in the United States with a food allergy is close to 15 million and almost 30 percent of that are children. With more than 170 foods which can cause allergic reactions in people, knowing what to look out for can save a life.

It is a myth that you can only be born with a food allergy. A person can develop food allergies at any point in their life, even if they’ve eaten that food every day for years. They occur if the immune system reacts badly to a food protein. As a result, the body defends itself against that allergen by releasing histamines and essentially attacks your own body. Common symptoms of a food allergy include rashes, swelling, respiratory difficulties, dizziness and more.

These may not sound life threatening but in severe cases, it can cause the body to go into anaphylactic shock, which if not treated immediately will likely result in death. It starts off with the mild symptoms like hives and sneezing and then deteriorates from there. People with severe allergies should carry an epinephrine injector on them always, in case of an emergency.

What are Food Labels?

Since prevention is better than a non-existent cure, your family should ideally read food labels thoroughly before purchasing a product. To avoid the foods which have potential to give rise to allergic reactions, we need to identify the foods first.

In 1938, the US Food and Drug Administration mandated that any food item which contained more than one ingredient had to be sold with a label which would have all the ingredients listed using their common names. This was done in an effort to prevent people from food allergies from suffering.

According to the FDA, there are eight top food allergens in the United States. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 states that all food companies must state them in their ingredients label clearly so that anybody with an allergy can identify it. They cannot use a scientific name to disguise the presence of the following foods as mandated by the law. They are:

  • Milk (processed milk, dry milk powder, and cream)
  • Fish (bass, cod etc.)
  • Peanut (hydrolyzed protein, peanut flour etc.)
  • Tree Nut (hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds etc.)
  • Egg (whites, albumen, yolk etc.)
  • Wheat
  • Soy (soybeans, soy flour etc.)
  • Crustacean Shellfish (crab, shrimp, lobster etc.)

The FALCPA is responsible for almost all packages goods in the United States. You can expect a warning for the common allergens on the food labels of the following products:

  • Infant formula and baby foods
  • All kinds of conventional food items
  • Vitamins and dietary supplements
  • Vending machine food items

The rule extends to all food-service establishments as well.


The food labels not covered under this rule can, however, have “hidden” ingredients, which is why reading the label is essential. Any food that is not FDA-regulated is free to include any item the company chooses.

Other common allergens include sesame and mustard but companies may prefer not to list it if they come with a particular spice or flavoring. In such cases, they use a generic term like “Natural Flavourings” to hide the fact. If you come across this term and are prone to allergies then it is better to avoid the food product.

Some manufacturers put precautionary statements beginning with the phrase, “May contain” which is very helpful. This means that although the product may not directly have the allergen it may have come in contact with it somehow. If you are unsure about any products, then you should get in touch with the company and the manufacturer to make an inquiry.

Reading the Labels on Food

Food labels have all the related information presented in a tabular format. You can learn about the calorie content and the number of servings of the food. Most importantly, you can skim through the nutrient content and ingredient list of all packaged food products. Thereafter, making healthy food choices will become very easy.

If your children have food allergies then you should teach them to read food labels as soon as possible. Unless the habit is cultivated over time, they will not consciously follow it when they grow up. There is no definite cure for food allergies till now.

If your kids are suffering from one food allergy or more, it is likely that they might have to live it their whole life. Researchers agree that avoiding the allergen is the only way to lead a life free of allergy attacks.


Reading food labels is an essential part of shopping – you know what to do the next time when you are at the supermarket!

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