Allergies And Food Labeling


By: Cathy Green, M.D.

Board Certified Allergist and Immunologist


Millions of Americans have allergic reactions to food each year. Most of the time symptoms are mild; however, some food allergies can be responsible for severe life threatening reactions.  Currently, strict food avoidance is the only way to manage severe food allergies. In order to accomplish this, adults and parents of children with these allergies must know how to read and interpret food labels in order to determine the risk of ingesting allergenic foods.


To help Americans avoid the health risks of ingesting food allergens, Congress passed the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) of 2004. This law went into effect on January 1st 2006; however, foods labeled prior to this date were not required to change their labeling.  The law requires that labels must clearly identify food source names for all ingredients that are derived from any protein in the eight most common food allergens. The eight allergens identified by the law are: milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans.


Here is an example of food labeling that is FALCPA compliant:  

food label


FALCPA applies to packaged foods both domestically manufactured and imported that are subject to FDA regulation.  Foods that are not regulated by this law are meat, poultry, and egg products regulated by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. The manufacturers may add food allergen statements voluntarily to their labels. Also, FALCPA does not apply to “cross contact” situations that may occur during manufacturing because of shared equipment or processing lines. For example, it is voluntary whether a manufacturer notes on the label that a food was “made in a factory with peanuts”.


In addition to reading food labels, adults and parents of children with severe food allergies must watch for ingredients to avoid, and be aware of which foods commonly contain food allergens. For example, if you have severe cow’s milk allergy, the following ingredients should be avoided: casein, whey, whey solids, buttermilk solids, curds, mild solids, lactalbumin, caseinate, sodium caseinate, and cream.


Also, foods commonly containing dairy include: hot chocolate, buttermilk, non-dairy creamers, baked goods, spreads including butter and many margarines, boxed dinners like puddings mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese, hot dogs and other lunch meats, salad dressings, yogurt, ice cream and sherbet, and many types of chocolate (cocoa is dairy free).


If you have severe egg allergy, the following ingredients should be avoided: albumin, globulin, lysozyme, livetin, silici albuminate, Simplesse, vitelin, meringue and ingredients with the word “ova” like ovalbumin. Foods commonly containing egg include: baked good, waffles, pancakes, breads, french toast and crackers, custards, puddings, ice cream pies, battered foods like fish and chicken nuggets, meatballs, pasta, salad dressings and sauces, certain soups that are cream or noodle based, and some cream fillings.


If you have severe peanut allergy the following ingredients should be avoided: peanut butter, peanut starch, peanut flour, cold-pressed or expeller peanut oil, all mixed nuts, beer nuts,  hydrolyzed plant protein, some vegetable oils and hydrolyzed vegetable proteins, and some natural flavorings.


Foods that commonly contain peanuts include: baked goods like doughnuts pastries breads muffins cookies and anything from a bakery that uses peanuts, candy bars, chocolate chips, baking mixes, nougat, snacks like granola rice cakes caramel corn and crackers, cereals, sauces like satay and pesto, Asian food, stir fry sauces and egg rolls, veggie burgers, and marzipan.


Soy, wheat, fish, shellfish, and tree nut ingredient and common food lists are readily available on the internet.


In conclusion, reading and interpreting food allergy labeling is imperative for adults and parents of children with severe food allergy. FALCPA has made food labeling clearer than in the past; however, extensive knowledge of related food allergy ingredients and common foods that contain the various food allergens remains necessary to prevent accidental ingestion. In addition, constant vigilance is imperative for those with life threatening food allergies to avoid accidental exposure in restaurants and at school resulting in a potentially life threatening allergic reaction.




  1. Food Allergies: What You Need to Know. FDA U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
  2. Get the Facts: New Food Allergen Labeling Laws.
  3. Eating with Food Allergies.