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WASHINGTON -- New Year's resolution for the FDA: Require food manufacturers to warn consumers, in plain English and on the label, about the presence of allergens in their products.
The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA) will require food labels to state whether food products contain protein derived from the eight major food allergens, effective Jan. 1, 2006. After that date, food labels have to identify the presence of ingredients with protein derived from milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, or soybeans in the list of ingredients, or to say "contains," followed by the name of the food allergen source after or adjacent to the ingredient list.
"The eight major food allergens account for 90 percent of all documented food allergic reactions, and some reactions may be severe or life-threatening," noted Robert E. Brackett, PhD, director of the agency's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. "Consumers will benefit from improved food labels for products that contain food allergens."
According to FDA, the new labels will be particularly helpful to youngsters learning to recognize the presence in foods of allergenic substances they need to avoid. An estimated 2 percent of adults and about 5 percent of infants and young children in the United States have food allergies, and annually about 30,000 consumers need emergency room treatment and 150 Americans die because of allergic reactions to food.
The act doesn't require food manufacturers or retailers to relabel or remove from store shelves items that don't reflect the revised allergen labeling, as long as the products were labeled in advance of the effective date. Because of this, FDA is advising consumers that there will be a transition period of undetermined length during which they will likely find food packages without the new labels in stores and homes.
To find out more about FALCPA, go to FDA's food allergy page at http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/wh-alrgy.html.