I, like many of you, find myself constantly wondering the answer to this question. Because of the severity of my allergies, I have to ask every waiter/waitress at every restaurant, read every label on every product, talk to every barista at every coffee shop, etc etc etc. It’s a big undertaking, but I know it has to be done. For me, the easiest is having a face to face conversation with the food preparer. I can engage in great dialogue and really get the feel for knowing if my food will be safe after I order. For consumer packaged goods, things get a bit more tricky.
For a (very) brief history lesson, the FDA created the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 that discusses the current thinking on the labeling of food products and ingredients list. If you are interested in reading further, the FDA created a Food Labeling Guide that simplifies their thoughts.
From the packaged foods side, some companies are dedicated to providing vital, but not required, information on their labels. As you can see, manufacturers are only required to state “Contains” if their product uses any of the Top 8 Allergens (milk, egg, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, and soybeans). Even if these allergens are already listed in the ingredients, they must be specifically called out again in the “Contains” section. And, they must be called out, even if it is only a trace.
Interestingly, it is not required for manufacturers to label if their product is “Processed in a facility with” any or all of the Top 8 Allergens. Some companies are still gracious enough to include and call out this information. This transparency in production is always very beneficial to people who are looking for their specific allergens. Other companies don’t include this information making it very difficult and leading to potential cross-contamination with allergens.
The best course of action is to contact the manufacturer directly. This is the only way to know for sure if a product you are buying has been exposed to an allergen! I am excited to initiate conversations on making with these manufacturers… if you have a manufacturer you’d like for me to reach out to, let me know! I’ll report back with answers on the blog!