Revised in January of 2006, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 requirements take some of the guesswork out of label reading, helping you easily identify foods that could cause an allergic reaction.
But be mindful of hidden allergens. Dr. Andrew MacGinnitie, an allergy specialist at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, said “Before the current FDA labeling requirements, some ingredients could be “hidden” (e.g. milk masquerading as casein or whey), and there has been some concern that some ingredients could be hidden as “natural flavor” or the like.” Now labels containing casein must say “Contains milk,” which is especially helpful for kids with food allergies who may be choosing their own snacks,
While food labels don't include every possible allergen, they do list the top eight, which account for 90 percent of all documented food allergies.
Here are little known ingredients you may overlook:
• Milk: May also appear as “casein” a milk protein or “lactose” a milk sugar. Look out also for butter, cream, curds, ghee and whey. Milk and its derivatives can also be found in some toiletries.
• Eggs: May also appear as “albumin,” “lecithin,” and “vitellin,” among other things. Look out also for lysozyme, mayonnaise, meringue, marshmallows and nougat. Be careful, because egg can be present in meat and shampoo, which are not required to carry the new food labels.
• Peanuts: Arachis oil is a hand and body lotion ingredient derived from peanuts. Look out also for groundnuts, beer nuts, goobers, nut meat, mole and nougat.
• Tree nuts (such as almonds, cashews, walnuts): Tree nuts can be found in cosmetics and toiletries such as ground walnut shells in exfoliators or almond milk in shampoos and bubble baths. Look out also for lychee, marzipan, nougat, pesto and praline.
• Fish (such as bass, cod, flounder): May appear in Worcestershire sauce as anchovies.
• Shellfish (such as crab, lobster, shrimp): May be present in some medications. Look out also for abalone, cockle, flavoring, and surimi.
• Soy: May also appear as “MSG,” “vegetable oil,” vegetable starch,” and “natural flavoring," particularly in Asian cooking. Soy is also common in cosmetics and toiletries. Look out also for miso, shoyu sauce, tempeh, tofu, and natto.
• Wheat: May be found in imitation meats, hot dogs, imitation crab, ice cream and soy sauce. Look out also for bran, bulghur, couscous, durum, farina, gluten, matzoh, spelt and wheat grass and whole wheat berries.
Some of this information has been gathered from the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network tip sheets.
John Riddle is a freelance writer and author from Delaware.