When reading food labels checking for allergens, we need to make sure what it is that we’re reading. What do all those phrases mean? What’s the differences between may contain traces and processed in a factory mean? Here’s a quick rundown of the most common terms and what exactly (or pretty close to it) they mean:
Advisory labeling — A manufacturer may use certain phrases when a particular allergen is not an intended ingredient, but the ingredient may come in contact with the food during the manufacturing process. As an example, a blueberry muffin may not contain nuts, but may be made in a bakery where banana nut muffins are made. Same for a lot of chocolates and many other foods. Manufacturers may use phrases such as: “may contain,” “processed in a facility with,” “manufactured on shared equipment with,” and others. There are no laws regarding when this type of label should be used.
Although there is no allergen in the product’s ingredients, there may be small amounts present due to cross-contamination – sharing a production facility with a product that contains allergens, for example.
Manufactured on the Same Line As
The food was produced in machines used to make other products containing an allergen, such as peanuts. Major food companies tend to have better allergy controls in place than smaller companies.”
Made in a Shared Facility or Made in a Facility that Also Processes…
These factories process foods with allergens, like the aforementioned banana muffins, but probably use separate equipment. However contaminants still can occur.
Of course you want to stay away from this one! This is the only one that really means that allergen is in that food. Also, the top 8 allergens are usually bold faced in the ingredient list, but be careful for other names they may go under, for instance, milk can also go as casein or whey.
Although manufacturers use a variety of label terms in their voluntary advisory warnings, these do not necessarily reflect the level of risk. As an example, a muffin that says that it “may contain nuts” is no more or less likely to contain nuts than a muffin that says “processed in a facility with nuts”. Many companies are listing it more as self coverage than as a warning. Know your own allergies and how serious they need to be taken before limiting yourself of so many foods. It never hurts, though, to stay away from those foods with a zillion ingredients. Most importantly, read your labels and use good judgement.