How to Read Food Labels with Food Allergies


Reading food labels to avoid allergens is key to keeping safe. Learning this skill is very important as reading labels never ends. Whether you are avoiding a Top 8 or a more uncommon one, labels on foods need to be read. Here, we will talk about some skills you will need to read food labels and be smart about what you purchase.

Allergen Information on Labels

The FDA only requires for the Top 8 allergens to be stated on food labels. They must be listed in plain language and easily understandable. For example, milk must be labeled as “milk” instead of casein. However, highly refined oils that come from allergens do not need to be declared on the label.

The allergen, if used in the product, will always be listed near or in the ingredients list. On occasion, it can be listed in parenthesis such as: whey (milk). After the main bulk of ingredients, the allergen can be listed as a “contains” statement.

If you have an allergen that is not in the top 8, reading labels is a lot more difficult. Companies do not need to list the simple language of the ingredient if it is not a top 8 allergen. Ingredients such as “spice”, “color” or “natural flavor” are not required to be broken down into their components.

Cross Contamination

Restaurants take care to avoid cross contamination, but what do manufacturers do? Manufacturers that have a risk of cross contamination use a warning on the labels by the ingredients section. These warning labels are not required by law and are not indicative of the amount of allergens in the food.

If an item gives a warning label like “may contain” or “manufactured on equipment”, its best to take precaution. If you are concerned about these labels, follow our advise in the paragraph below. Foods being labeled as allergen-free are not regulated as well.

Learn More

Worried about what you see on the label? Don’t be afraid to reach out to the manufacturers. Typically, their website includes extra details or even an allergen information section. If you cannot find the answer you are looking for, call the manufacturer directly.  Products can change from time to time, so always be cautious when purchasing an item you know as safe. Always read the label to make sure no new ingredients or warnings are added.

Check out our food allergens tab to find out what ingredients to look out for on food labels. Alternatively, here is a document from FARE that lists what items you should look out for with particular allergies.

How do you read labels on food products? Comment below and share your tips and tricks with us!

Stef PenrodComment