About 2% of all American adults and 5% of the nation’s infants and young children suffer from food allergies.  Some allergic reactions triggered by the foods eaten are merely irritating but 30,000 of them every year are severe enough to require emergency medical treatment.  About 150 people die every year after eating something they were allergic to.

The 2004 Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act required all packaged foods made from major food allergens to identify the allergens on labels but the act did not provide specific wording to be used.  As a result, labels are confusing at best and perhaps a bit misleading, too, with approximately 30 variations on the topic.  Statements such as “may contain,” “processed on shared equipment,” and “manufactured in a facility that processes (any number of allergens)” do little to minimize the danger associated with eating these foods.

One particularly disturbing aspect of the confusing assortment of allergen information on today’s labels is that teenagers are ignoring warning labels altogether and opting, instead, for eating foods that may put them at risk.  Teenagers are at the greatest risk of suffering fatal allergic reactions to food than any other age group.

The misleading and confusing labels have been the source of  on-going complaints from consumers and from food-safety advocates, prompting the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reconsider these label warnings.  The agency will host a public hearing Tuesday to begin the process of better labeling procedures for foods that contain major allergens.  The foods most likely to trigger an allergic reaction include eggs and milk, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, soybeans, and wheat.  Any food product that contains a protein that comes from these sources must be identified as well.

While improved wording may allow for wiser food choices, the risk factor may remain for people highly allergic to certain foods.  When even a trace amount makes one person miserable, it may prove fatal to another.  Skeptics say even improved and consistent warnings on labels will not completely eliminate the threat for allergic reaction, especially in situations where a food manufacturer uses the same equipment to process foods that contain allergens as well as foods that do not.

Source: Washington Post