Food Allergen Avoidance

Information to reduce the chance of an accidental exposure

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Food Labeling

In the United States, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) of 2004 went into effect from January 1, 2006.

This law requires that the 8 major allergens, including milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, fish, crustacean shellfish, wheat, and soy, be declared on ingredient labels using plain English words.

The common names used to identify the foods may be listed within the ingredient list or in a separate statement (eg, “Contains .”) in a type size no smaller than that used in the list of ingredients.

The law also requires that the specific type of allergen within a category be named, such as almond (tree nuts) or cod (fish).

FALCPA applies to foods manufactured in the United States as well as to packaged foods that are imported for sale and subject to regulation by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

FALCPA does not apply to meat, poultry, certain egg products (eg, whole eggs), or raw agricultural foods, such as fruits and vegetables.


Studies have shown that products that state "may contain", "produced in a shared facility", and "Produced on shared equipment", can contain enough protein to cause a reaction. 

The amount of protein contamination fluctuates dramatically and you can tolerate a food containing these statements many times before you eat the "loaded" food and have a reaction.


Tips for allergen avoidance

  • Utensils, cookware, glassware, storage containers, and other food preparation equipment
    • Thoroughly clean before preparing or serving safe meals
    • Prepare safe meal first to avoid inadvertent cross-contact
    • Be aware of the potential for cross-contact with utensils, for example, a knife used to prepare peanut butter and jelly by a nonallergic child could introduce peanut allergen into an otherwise safe jar of jelly and subsequently cause a reaction in a peanut-allergic sibling eating the jelly.  Similarly, the same knife with peanut butter (unclean) may be placed in the dishwasher, where a young child may later come upon it while the dishwasher is open
    • Designate specific containers for use by the allergic person only. For example, avoid sippy cup mix-ups by using a specific cup for the allergic child or using an obvious label

  • Refrigerator/freezer and kitchen pantry

    • Keep food containers covered/sealed to prevent spill contamination

    • Assign a specific shelf or cabinet for safe foods. Consider using color codes or tags for easy identification

  •  Behaviors of family members

    • Wash hands before and after meals but particularly before serving allergen-free meals and after ingestion of allergen

    • Confine food consumption to specified dining areas or create allergen-free zones within the home

    • Wipe down surfaces after preparation and ingestion of meals a

    • For young children, unsafe foods should be kept out of reach both at the dinner table and when storing foods

Studies have investigated only peanut butter, but cleaning tabletops with several standard cleansers was sufficient for removal of the peanut allergen.

Household cleaners (except dish- washing liquid) and commercial wipes effectively removed peanut allergens from tabletops. Both liquid and bar soaps, but not alcohol-based antibacterial gels, removed peanut allergens from adults’ hands.


Tips for eating out

  • Before (prepare)

    • Check the menu online to determine if there are feasible meal options

    • Call ahead to gauge the restaurant’s ability and willingness to accommodate customer’s needs

    • Carry preprinted cards with information about allergens and warnings about cross-contact (go to FAAN for cards)

    • Carry emergency medications, especially epinephrine

  •  During (communicate)

    • Communicate clearly and directly about food allergy. At a restaurant, the communicating personnel includes the wait staff, chef, and/or manager

    • Ask about ingredients and method of preparation. Do not trust ingredient lists on menus at face value

    • It is best to speak directly to the person making the food

  •  High-risk places for cross-contact (avoid)

    • Buffets

    • Ice cream parlors

    • Bakeries

    • Asian restaurants (for peanut and tree nut allergies )

    • Seafood restaurants (for fish and shellfish allergies)

    • Deep fryers, in which oil is reused for different foods and thus may be contaminated by previously cooked foods

    • Potlucks and parties where homemade dishes come from a variety of sources/preparer


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