How to Read Food Allergy Labels

If you or your child have a food allergy, learning how to read food labels is essential for preventing accidental exposure.

The Food Allergen Labelling and Consumer Protection Act

The Food Allergen Labelling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) was passed in the U.S. in 2004. This Act requires the presence of the eight major food allergens — milk, egg, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts, soybeans — in any packaged food to be declared using a name that is recognizable in the ingredients list. 

In addition to the ingredients list there may also be a 'Contains' statement which must either immediately follow the ingredients list or be next to it on the package. If there is no 'Contains' statement on the package then the common English name for the allergen must be included in the ingredients list.

allergy warning label

Example of food allergy labeling

If a 'Contains' statement is used then the food may be listed in the ingredients list using just its chemical name e.g. sodium caseinate, because in this case, the milk from which it is derived will be listed in the "Contains" statement saying “Milk.”

Allergy Warning Labels

The FDA rules around allergens do not require a manufacturer to list facility and potential cross-contact allergens, but more and more companies are doing so to be transparent with their customers. 

Examples of cautionary labels for peanut include:

  • "May contain peanut"
  • "Manufactured in a facility that uses peanut ingredients"
  • "Manufactured in a facility which processes peanuts"
  • "Processed in a facility that uses peanut"
  • "Manufactured on equipment that processes products containing peanuts"
  • "Manufactured on equipment that uses peanuts"
  • "Manufactured in a facility that processes peanuts, but not on the same equipment"
  • "Manufactured on shared equipment...may contain peanuts"

Each manufacturer uses their own discretion to determine what, if any, statement they make about other allergens. You should not assume that one statement means there is less likelihood of cross contamination than another statement. 

On the other hand, since no statement is required, you should not assume that one of these statements increases the chances of cross contamination either. 

Stick to What You Know

Manufacturers can change their ingredients or processing at any time, so it’s important to read every label, even with foods you’ve been able to eat safely before. 

Every parent of a child with a food allergy or person with a food allergy must determine for themselves, based on their past experiences with packaged foods, what they are comfortable with.