FDA Requirement Offers Protection to People with Food Allergies

FDA Requirement Offers Protection to People with Food Allergies

Healthnotes Newswire (January 19, 2006)—The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced new regulations that require special labeling for foods that contain common allergens. The improved labeling of food products will allow people with any concerns about the effects of certain foods on their health to have more control over what they eat.

As of January 1, 2006, the FDA is requiring that food manufacturers clearly label all food products that contain some of the most common allergenic foods. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA), which was passed by Congress in 2004, requires labels to clearly identify any ingredients that are derived from eggs, wheat, dairy products, peanuts, tree nuts such as almonds and walnuts, fish, crustacean shellfish such as shrimp and crab, and soybeans. These new labels must read, “contains,” followed by the source of the allergen. The labeling law is intended to alert people with food allergies to the presence of allergenic ingredients they might not otherwise recognize. For example, a label on a food product that contains whey or casein must now state, “contains dairy,” in addition to listing whey or casein in the list of ingredients.

A food allergy is an immune-system reaction triggered by a specific food molecule. True allergies are considered to be those that involve an antibody of the type immunoglobulin E (IgE). They typically occur soon after eating an allergenic food and are therefore usually easy to recognize. Food sensitivities that involve the IgG component of the immune system generally cause delayed symptoms, and often the food that caused them is not obvious. True food allergies are less common and tend to be more severe than delayed food sensitivities. The symptoms of food allergies can range from an itchy rash to a life-threatening swelling of the airways; food sensitivities are likely to manifest as chronic inflammatory conditions such as eczema, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. In adults, the most common causes of true food allergies are fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, and eggs, while in children the most common culprits are milk, soy, wheat, peanuts, and eggs.

About 2% of adults and 5 to 6% of children and infants in the United States have true food allergies, and approximately 150 people die each year from allergic reactions to foods. The prevalence of food allergies—and allergic diseases in general—in developed countries has risen sharply in recent decades. It has been speculated that improvements in hygiene might play a role; with fewer harmful bacteria in the day-to-day environment to keep the immune system occupied, the immune system might have more opportunities to react to otherwise harmless substances in the environment such as foods and dust.

The enactment of this labeling law is expected to reduce the number of severe allergic reactions and deaths due to allergic reactions. In addition, increasing consumer awareness should help people with delayed food allergies avoid those foods that cause their symptoms.

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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