A new study found that many consumers are confused by food labels warning about potential allergens. Lead researcher Dr. Ruchi Gupta explained, “Up to 40 percent of consumers who either themselves have a food allergy or a child with a food allergy are purchasing products with precautionary allergen labels.”
The most commonly misunderstood food labels are those that state “may contain” or “manufactured on shared equipment”.
Although those labels may give the impression that the food item is still safe to consume, Dr. Gupta suggests there still may be some levels of a particular allergen enough to cause a reaction in a consumer.
The researchers conducted an online survey of over 6,600 respondents. Respondents either had a food allergy or had a family member who did.
Nearly eight percent of children and two percent of adults have food allergies, and close to 40 percent of children have had a serious reaction as a result of ingesting a food they were allergic to.
All food companies must list potential allergens. The common ones are dairy, wheat, egg, peanuts, fish, shellfish, nuts, and soy.
Even if a food item doesn’t contain the allergen but was processed using equipment that touched food with those allergens, there is still a risk for an allergic reaction. Many manufacturers use cautionary labels, but this practice is voluntary and not mandatory.
Based on the survey results, many respondents believed those cautionary labels were mandatory.
As each person is different and respond to varying levels of an allergen, optional use of cautionary labels can still pose a threat to consumers.
Dr. Gupta suggests that food labels need to be overhauled and have clearer messages in order for consumers to make wiser and safer choices when grocery shopping. Dr. Gupta added, “What we encourage our parents to do is try to avoid any food with any precautionary labeling if it has the food their child is allergic to.”