Reading labels for food allergies can be tricky, especially when you have non top 8 food allergies. With an allergen set like ours that includes peanuts, and tree-nuts, but that also includes foods like strawberry, and watermelon (which are not included in the top 8 food allergies) it can make you want to pull your hair out!
Many times these non top 8 food allergens can be hidden in the label as "natural flavors", "spices", or "colors". For example: My daughter loves yogurt, especially the squeeze tubes that are so easy to pack in a lunch box. I have been searching for a strawberry free version of them to no avail. When reading the labels on the boxes, it does not specify strawberry in the ingredients, but lists "natural flavors". To find out if strawberry is in the "natural flavors" one must call the company with the number on the box, and the kind representative on the line will tell you that it could take a few days, to a few weeks to get back with that proprietary information.
Foods that I have found that commonly have strawberry or watermelon in the "natural flavors":
yogurt, fruit snacks, juice (fruit punch, any of them that lists "with added natural flavors"), popsicles, cookies, pop tarts, flavored breakfast cereals.
What are the top 8 food allergens that must be labeled for?
A few of the non top 8 foods that do not have to be labeled for:* Fruits (such as strawberries, watermelon, peach, apple, pear)
* Vegetables (such as garlic, carrot, cabbage, celery)
* Herbs (such as parsley, thyme, oregano)
* Seeds (such as sesame, and sunflower)
FDA Food Labeling Law: Explains the USA Food allergy labeling laws
Kids With Food Allergies: This website has many good tips on reading labels
Even with top 8 Food allergens it can be tricky to tell if a food is safe from the label, you may want to call the manufacturer to make sure the product is free from cross-contamination, as cross contamination does not legally have to be labeled for. Some companies do, but the wording that they use can be misleading as "made in the same facility" may sound safer than "may contain", but in reality, both may mean made on shared lines as the allergen. A study has shown that products with "made in the same facility warnings" may contain the same amounts of the allergen, or more, than products with a "may contain" warning. Read the study about peanut found in foods with both types of warnings here: "may contain" vs "made in the same facility"
Calling may give you peace of mind as they can specify what the labeling really means.
Top 8 food allergens can be listed just in the Ingredient list and/or separately in a"Contains" allergen information list. If a product does not have a "Contains" allergen info section, it does NOT mean that there is not a top 8 allergen present. The company just chooses to label the allergen ONLY in the main ingredient list. For example, three different ways to label for egg:
Flavors... Another Exciting Food Allergy Label Reading Adventure:
It can take a you while longer to get out of the grocery store than usual when you have to read every label, every time. While I feel like I have a good handle on reading labels, and a good list of companies that label well for allergies, I have made mistakes. It is easy to let down your guard, and assume that a certain cereal, or treat, is safe because it has been for a few years. I have learned the hard way that manufacturers like to improve or change their recipes, or manufacturing processes seemingly on a whim.
Different flavors of the same product may have different allergen warnings as they may be manufactured in different facilities. Even the difference between regular, and sugar free, may make a product go from safe, to unsafe. For example, one flavor of rice cereal by a certain company may be made on a dedicated line free of a certain allergen, while another flavor of the same rice cereal made by the same company, may contain traces of the allergen. This happened to us. I had become lax in reading the label on a particular breakfast cereal as it had been free of my daughter's allergens for years. I decided to branch out and try a different flavor of that same cereal, and unfortunately I did not read the label, or I would have seen the allergy warning that stated this particular flavor "may contain traces of peanuts". My daughter ended up with a systemic reaction.
Safe label reading for the food allergic can be done! It just may take a bit longer to get your shopping done, and may inspire a love of baking everything from scratch!