If you have a food allergy, you know the best way to avoid a reaction is to avoid the food you are allergic to (your allergens). Here are some suggestions to help you decipher tricky food labels.
• Always read the label – Once you find a food that is “safe” for you, don’t assume you can always trust it. Unfortunately, manufacturers are constantly making “improvements” to foods, which means they are changing the ingredients. So don’t trust that a food you bought last month is still allergen-free. Read the label every time before you purchase the product.
• Regional differences - If you travel or move to a different part of the country, be aware that there may be differences in production practices between plants that are owned by the same manufacturer. So don’t assume a food that is safe in Arizona is equally safe in Missouri. Double-check the label to be sure.
• Size differences - Recipes for different quantities or sizes of an item may call for slightly different ingredients. Read the label on the actual product package you intend to buy.
• Missing label - If you have an item that does not have a food list and that is marked “Not Labeled for Individual Sale” that means it came out of a larger package. Look on the bigger box or bag to find the list.
• Top 8 labeling - If you are allergic to one or more of the top 8 allergens (dairy, eggs, soy, wheat, shellfish, fish, tree nuts, or crustacean shellfish) you should have a slightly easier time reading labels than if your allergen is less common. Since January 1, 2006, the United States Food and Drug Administration requires that any of the top eight food allergens must be listed in plain language, either in the body of the ingredient list, or in bold type at the end of the list.
• Less common labeling - If your allergen is not one of the top eight, you must be very careful to look not only for the simple name of the allergen, but also for any foods or other flavorings that could be hidden sources of your allergen.