Have you ever picked up a packaged food item and seen one of the following statements?
- Made on shared equipment with peanuts
- Made in a facility that also processes wheat and dairy
- May contain tree nuts
- May contain traces of egg
Confusing, right? I always wonder if manufacturers use such statements just to cover their behinds. Any one of these statements is completely voluntary and unregulated. These types of precautionary labels cannot be used to assess the risk of an allergic reaction. In fact, research conducted in 2007 found that many individuals with peanut allergy ignore these advisory statements.(1) The researchers tested 200 products with a peanut advisory statement and found that most (90%) did not contain detectable peanut protein. Of the 10% that did contain detectable levels, 65% had a "clinically significant" amount of peanut protein. This translates to ~7% of the 200 tested products (all carried a peanut advisory label) being found to have a detectable amount of peanut protein that would likely pose a risk to most peanut-allergic individuals, and about 4% with a detectable level that was deemed "not clinically significant."
Because these advisory statements aren't regulated, an expert panel has recommended avoiding any foods labeled with a precautionary statement related to your food allergens.(2) If you or a family member has a food allergy, you should ask your healthcare team whether you need to rely on these advisory statements. When in doubt, it can help to contact the manufacturer to ask what they mean by the statement they use. It is also wise to err on the side of caution and contact the manufacturer even if the product doesn't have an advisory label related to your food allergen, just to be safe.
For an even more in-depth discussion, please turn to one of our trusted resources, Kids with Food Allergies. They have a great article here that does a better job of explaining this topic than we could! Sharon Wong also offers an explanation on a page of her website, geared toward peanut-free recipes.
What sort of food allergen statements have you seen during your recent grocery trips?
1. Hefle SL, et al. Consumer attitudes and risks associated with packaged foods having advisory labeling regarding the presence of peanuts. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2007
2. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Food Allergy in the United States. 2007.