For those with food allergies, eating a meal can feel like stepping onto a minefield. As someone who’s allergic to peanuts — who has felt that sudden roof-of-the-mouth itch and shortness of breath on many occasions — believe me, I know. You ask questions, you read ingredients labels, you stay as vigilant as you possibly can, and then… a Caesar salad almost does you in (true story).
Manufacturers are required to list in plain language any of the top eight food allergens that their products contain, and many of them have gone a step further to state any possible cross contamination risks. These caveats can be helpful, but on the whole they’re pretty confusing. Is “may contain peanuts” the same as “manufactured in a facility that also processes peanuts”? Technically it is, but most consumers don’t know that. And according to the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, there are at least 30 different versions of this warning out there. Yeesh….
On September 16th, the Food and Drug Administration hopes to start clarifying things. That’s when the agency will hold a public meeting on allergy labeling — a first step in creating a labeling plan that is both “clear and uniform”, according to the FDA. It’s around that time that the FDA will also release a finalized version of its definition for “gluten free”; its proposal, in short, stipulates that a product can contain no more than 20 parts per million of gluten in order to receive this label.
Here’s hoping the FDA develops clear standards for people with food intolerances. Believe me, it’d be a big help for the more than 15 million of us out there.