If you read food labels on foods before you buy them, you may have noticed a statement that says “CONTAINS” followed by a list of one or more food items. You’ll see it just below the ingredients list as in the picture to the right. It’s often in bold type. You may think this is a good thing, but read on to learn why you cannot depend on it.
First, some background information. The Food Allergen Labeling and consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA) sets the guidelines for how foods are to be labeled regarding “major food allergens.” These are the 8 food allergens that account for 90% of food allergic reactions. They are:
- Fish (e.g., bass, flounder, cod)
- Crustacean shellfish (e.g. crab, lobster, shrimp)
- Tree nuts (e.g., almonds, walnuts, pecans)
It is required by this law that food labels identify the food source names for all major food allergens. But here’s where it gets tricky. Manufacturers can label the food source in one of two ways:
1) By listing the major food allergen in parentheses following the name of the ingredient
Examples: “lecithin (soy),” “flour(wheat)”, and “whey (milk)”
2) Immediately after or next to the list of ingredients in a “contains” statement.
Example: “Contains Wheat, Milk, and Soy.”
Sounds simple enough, until you start looking at food labels. The “CONTAINS” statement is nice and clear. And it’s easy to find on a label (see image above). But the parenthetical version, while seemingly simple, can be a real issue in a long ingredient list (see image below). I personally despise long ingredient lists and tend to put the item back if the list is too long. It’s just too easy to miss something. Wouldn’t it be nice if they all used “CONTAINS?”
So be cautious when you’re shopping. Look for the CONTAINS information near the ingredients list. But if you don’t find it, read that ingredients list carefully. And one other thing: you may want to check the label every time you buy something. You never know when a manufacturer will change their ingredients.