Labels… Confusing?

By Heather Legg

We’ve often talked about how food labeling is confusing and not often clear. Do you go with the “made in the same factory” but avoid the “may contain traces”? Do you avoid anything with any possibility of containing your allergen? Do you not heed any of these warnings and just skip products with your allergen listed as an ingredient? Well, the FDA has found that more and more people are confused by the labels, therefore are the voluntary warning labels really working?

There is no real mandate on these warnings, unlike listing the allergen on the label which was set into action a year of so ago. The voluntary labeling (i.e., may contain traces, made in a facility, etc.) has no definite wording or standards to follow and FAAN reports there are at least 30 different ways of saying “this product may or can contain a certain allergen.”

On September 16, the FDA will hold a public hearing as a first step toward developing a long-term strategy in an attempt to clear the confusion surrounding labeling. Maybe some standards will come into action and it will be easier for those with food allergies in their families to know what to buy.

Apparently, a lot of foods listed as may contain traces, have been found to have actually much more than a trace of the allergen. And on the flip side, some companies list the warning to combat liability, when there really isn’t very much of a chance at all of the food containing anything not listed. You often see changes on the labels of favorite foods, first they have no warning label and then without changing ingredients, there is one.

I recently wrote on someone at our school with an allergic child who requested that no one send in anything with a warning label, even for their own child. If labels were more clear and consistent, maybe this wouldn’t be a factor or a consideration. It also would make it easier for those friends of those with food allergies; I have seen many a teacher or mom studying a label in confusion trying to decide if the food is safe.

We’ll see what happens on September 16, it sounds like a step in the right, safe direction. Consistency and guidelines may be what we need here in the game of deciphering labels.

It’s funny, sometimes the safer we try to be, the more confused everyone ends up.

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