We were at a birthday party in 2002. We had just eaten cake and ice cream. Our son Paul’s lip swelled, he became lethargic, started wheezing and vomited. We quickly recognized that he was having an anaphylactic reaction, gave him Benadryl, and called 911. We were fairly certain that it was a reaction to what he had eaten, but there were so many ingredients that we didn’t know which food it was. He went to an allergist, had skin testing and blood work. It turned out that he didn’t just have one food allergy, but rather three: milk, eggs and wheat (he has since outgrown his wheat and egg allergies but has not yet outgrown his milk allergy).
We were told to just avoid foods that have those ingredients. The problem is they are in practically everything, even Play-Doh. We now had to learn how to read labels, which wasn’t always as easy as it is now. Manufacturers previously used codes when foods contained certain allergens. For example, some foods simply had a “D” listed somewhere on the packaging. This meant that food contained dairy. There was usually nowhere else on the label that stated the food product contained milk. Imagine how difficult it was to figure this out. If we accidentally missed one of these codes it could be life threatening for our son.
This is why the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA) (Public Law 108-282) was enacted by the FDA in August of 2004. This law required manufacturers to disclose if their product contains one of the major food allergens (by their common names). The major food allergens are milk, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and crustacean shellfish. These foods account for 90% of all food allergies. All makers of packaged foods were required to comply with this law by January 1, 2006. If a company is found to be noncompliant then they will be subject to both criminal and civil penalties. If an “undeclared” allergen is found in a packaged food, the FDA will request that the food item be officially recalled and be subject to seizure. In 2005, a new provision was set forth to apply to restaurants and other retail food establishments.
There have been many advances in food allergy awareness over the past decade; however there are still some “hidden dangers.” Even though these laws were enacted to provide a purchaser with the knowledge of crucial ingredients, there is no way to provide a food allergic consumer with the knowledge of cross contamination. Some companies have placed additional statements on their food labels that state they are “manufactured in a facility that also processes (whatever allergen).” In addition, most restaurants do not thoroughly clean their grills in between orders, and there is a possibility that a food item containing an allergen may be cooked next to an item that would have been considered “safe.” Oh, and buffets, forget it! How many times have you seen someone at a buffet use the same utensil to get out more than one thing! The next time you see this, speak up; it could mean someone’s life! For more information, please visit www.foodallergy.org