Originally Published: November 22, 2008 9:30 p.m.
Each year, millions of Americans have allergic reactions to food. Although most food allergies cause relatively mild and minor symptoms, some food allergies can cause severe reactions and may even be life-threatening.
There is no cure for food allergies. Strict avoidance of food allergens, as well as the early recognition and management of allergic reactions to food, is the best way to prevent serious health consequences.
To help Americans avoid the health risks posed by food allergens, Congress passed the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004. The law applies to all foods regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), both domestic and imported, that were labeled on or after Jan. 1, 2006. (The FDA regulates all foods except meat, poultry and certain egg products.)
Before this law, the labels of foods made from two or more ingredients were required to list all ingredients by their common, or usual, names. The names of some ingredients, however, do not clearly identify their source.
Now, the labels must clearly identify the source of all ingredients that are, or are derived from, the most common food allergens. As a result, food labels help allergic consumers to identify offending foods or ingredients so they can more easily avoid them.
While more than 160 foods can cause allergic reactions in people with food allergies, the law identifies the eight most common allergenic foods. These foods, which account for 90 percent of food allergic reactions and are the food sources from which many other ingredients are derived, are:
Fish (e.g., bass, flounder, cod)
Crustacean shellfish (e.g., crab, lobster, shrimp)
Tree nuts (e.g., almonds, walnuts, pecans)
Persons found to have a food allergy should learn to read labels and avoid the offending foods. They should also learn, in case of accidental ingestion, to recognize the early symptoms of an allergic reaction, and be properly educated on - and armed with - appropriate treatment measures.
Persons with a known food allergy who begin experiencing symptoms while, or after, eating a food should initiate treatment immediately and go to a nearby emergency room if symptoms progress.