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Labels make allergy ingredients clearer

January 23, 2006|Rosie Mestel

Starting Jan. 1, food labels must also state, in plain English, whether the item contains any of eight foods that are behind 90% of the known food allergies suffered by an estimated 11 million Americans -- milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat.

The change is the result of the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act, passed by Congress in 2004, and is aimed at clarifying which foods contain potentially dangerous substances.

Before the new rule "you needed a dictionary of scientific terms to carry up and down the grocery aisles," says Anne Munoz-Furlong, founder and chief executive of the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, a nonprofit advocacy group based near Washington, D.C. A food containing milk might say nothing about milk but list casein, whey, ammonium caseinate or curds, all of which are derived from milk. A substance containing eggs might just say "albumin," a protein found in egg whites, or a wheat-containing product, "semolina." Now the words "milk" or "egg" or "wheat" must be somewhere on the package.

That also holds if any of those troublesome eight are contained in a natural flavoring or coloring. These previously didn't have all their ingredients unpacked and were a source of trouble for some people with allergies.

"Somewhere on this label, because of this law, will be words that even a 7-year-old understands," Munoz-Furlong says.

But take note: The law doesn't apply to restaurant food and only applies to foods packaged after Jan. 1, so it will be a while before all the products in a supermarket carry these clearer labels.

-- Rosie Mestel

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