There have been several instances where I’ve had to deal with a food allergy. One of the most startling was at a restaurant. There were pine nuts in the salad, and I am severely allergic to them. It took two hits from the rescue inhaler to stop the reaction. Others aren’t lucky enough for that to work.
Study: Between 2005 and 2010 there were 1632 food recalls. 520 (31%) were for undeclared allergens. In 2013, 44% of all food recalls were for undeclared food allergens. Two thirds or more of the victims of this problem are children.
Laws: The FDA mandates that all ingredients are on the packaging. The problem is that they can’t check every single package of every single product. It’s up to the manufacturers to make sure the information is correct. Many products list food allergens twice. It’s in the ingredients list and in larger print under the nutrition information.
What is the chief problem? With all the media attention peanuts get you’d think they were the biggest problem. They aren’t. That title goes to milk. This isn’t just because milk products can aggravate those with lactose intolerance. There are many people who are allergic to all things dairy and it can be as severe as a peanut allergy. Milk is also in a *lot* of things.
Proposed legal steps: The FDA wants to ramp up its role in dealing with this problem. It will still be the manufacturers’ responsibility, but in order to comply with the new rules they will have to undergo tests and inspections to show they are handling the possible food allergens correctly and that their packaging meets or exceeds labeling laws.
What can I do? There are several things we can do to protect ourselves. Education is the first step. The FDA has a page that discloses food recalls and the reasons they are being recalled. You may notice many are for things like salmonella but there are also recalls for undeclared allergens.
The second is to carefully read packaged food ingredients. Chemical names may be used instead of those you are familiar with. Lactose is a good example. If it says that, there’s milk in it. Also check to see if the product has been processed on equipment that has also processed a food allergen. Trace amounts could be in the product.
Third is to ask your doctor about having an epi-pen. This could save your life. It administers a dose of epinephrine to help counteract the allergic reaction. That could buy you enough time to call an ambulance or get to the emergency room.