What Is FALCPA and Why Is Food Allergy Labeling So Important?
If you have a food allergy, you know how important it is to always check the ingredients contained in food products. Knowing how to read ingredient labels can literally prevent you from having a life-threatening reaction.
The majority of food products available in grocery stores and supermarkets have an ingredient label that lists all the components used in a product. Normally, you can find this under (or near) the Nutrition Facts label.
Sometimes, manufacturers of big box products may not put the ingredients list on the items that are not labeled for individual sale. In this case, the ingredients label can be found on the larger container from which the items are taken.
What Is the FALCPA?
The FALCPA is an abbreviature for the Food Allergy Labeling and Consumer Protection Act that came into force in 2006. According to this act, the eight most common food allergens, such as milk, egg, peanut, tree nut, soy, fish and shellfish, must be included in the ingredients list. The act requires that these allergenic ingredients are listed in simple and easy-to-understand language (English).
Based on statistics, these eight allergens alone are causes of around 90% reported food allergies in the U.S.
Regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FALCPA applies to all kinds of packaged food products sold on the territory of the United States, including those that are imported. Specification of the type of tree nut, fish and shellfish is also required by FALCPA.
The name of a certain allergen must appear only once the food label. It can be done in either one of the two ways: within the list of ingredients or after it.
The first method involves putting the commonly-used name of the food allergen in the ingredients list and mentioning the food source of the allergen in parentheses. For example, “natural flavoring [milk, soy]”.
The second method involves placing the term “contains” followed by the name of the food source of the allergen right after the general ingredients list, e.g. “Contains peanut, soy and tree nut”. The type size of this statement should be no smaller that that used for ingredients list.
People who are allergic to foods that don’t fall into the top 8 food allergens must read the full list of ingredients of a food product, as other allergens are not legally required to be mentioned in the “contains” statement.
Food Products That Don’t Fall Within the FALCPA Jurisdiction
As mentioned earlier, FALCPA applies only to packaged foods. Thus, foods that are placed in a wrapper, box or any other “to-go” container after they were ordered by a customer don’t fall within its regulation. There are many food products that are also outside the jurisdiction of FALCPA. Those include:
- Fruits, vegetables and other agricultural products;
- Meat, poultry and egg products that under the scope of the USDA regulation;
- Highly refined oils that are made from one of the eight most common food allergens (according to the law).
Speaking of refined oils, generally, experts recommend that you avoid oils derived from foods you are allergic to. This is because some of these oils may not be refined enough and may contained traces of allergenic protein. If you have a food, especially anaphylactic allergy, even trace amounts of the allergens can be life-threatening.
You may have also noticed precautionary labeling statements like “may contain trace amounts of tree nuts” or “this product was manufactured in a facility also manufacturing soy”. These are voluntary statements that are sometimes made by manufacturers themselves in order to warn about the risks for cross-contamination. Although these warnings are not regulated by FALCPA, they are also made to help people with allergies avoid their trigger foods. Research suggests that even traces of food allergens can cause a reaction in some people. Therefore, you are better off taking these statements seriously. Even though it’s not clear whether the allergens are really contained in foods labeled this way, specialists’ recommendation is to avoid such food products.
While restaurants menus are not anyhow regulated by FALCPA, many chain restaurants, including fast food restaurants, disclose their allergy information on their websites. Remember that you should always ask the restaurant staff about the ingredients and preparation of your food, if you have any doubts.
Code Names for Common and Rare Food Allergens
Some of the eight major food allergens (milk, egg, soy, peanut, tree nut, soy, fish and shellfish) can be sometimes included in the ingredients list under various code words. You can check the common code words for your trigger food and carry a short list with you when doing grocery shopping.
If you have an allergy to a food that is not included in the FALCPA list of food allergens (e.g. sesame seed, or nightshades), knowing common code names for your allergen is especially important.
What Are Hidden Allergens?
Sometimes, manufacturers can mention food allergens in their food labels using quite confusing terms. For instance, they can be stated in Latin or listed only under general terms like “natural flavoring”, “modified food starch”, etc., without any specification. Meanwhile, many spices, flavorings, and additives may trigger reactions in people with food allergies.
If you have any questions about the sources of certain ingredients, or you want to find out more about the process of manufacturing, you can always contact the manufacturer using the number stated on the food package or their website. If you develop an allergic reaction to a food product that should normally be safe, you should also report it to the manufacturing company.
To be updated about food safety situation on the market, you can sign up for the FDA or CFIA allergy recall alerts. In most cases, food products that contain undeclared allergenic substances are likely to be recalled.
What If You Develop an Allergic Reaction?
When an allergic person reacts to a food whose ingredients label doesn’t include any allergenic food products, the case should be reported to a local FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator.
If a manufacturer ignores the FALCPA labeling requirements and doesn’t indicate potential allergens, it is considered as a violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, and the company will likely be subject to the civil and criminal penalty.