In no time, you will be a pro at reading every label you see! I try to read every label, every time I buy a product, and any time I serve a product.
There are government requirements for food allergy labeling. Here is a summary (from
"The FDA requires food manufacturers to list the presence of the most common food allergens on their labels. These are the 8 foods included in the labeling requirements: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (such as almonds, cashew, and walnuts), fish (such as bass, cod, and flounder), shellfish (such as crab, lobster, and shrimp), soy, and wheat. If the product contains one of these foods or a protein from one, it must be listed.
Any domestic or imported food regulated by the FDA must supply information such as “contains eggs” on the label. This requirement also includes any of these allergens found in flavorings, colorings, or other additives in that product. If a food may accidentally come in contact with one of these allergens during the growing, harvesting, or manufacturing process (for example, if peanuts are processed in the same plant), the manufacturer is not required to mention this on the label, but many do list the possibility of trace amounts of a common allergen. Errors of omission do occur, but, when government inspectors notice that a product contains an unlisted allergen, there is a recall of the product."
Labels can look different. Some just have an ingredient list and you have to look carefully through it for allergens. Some products add an additional line, in bold, that says "CONTAINS:" followed by allergens from the Top 8 list. However, don't ever rely just on this line because not every manufacturer will print a "CONTAINS" line. Always read the full ingredient list.
Also look for "Processed on shared equipment with..." to identify possible cross-contamination. Remember though that manufacturer is not required to list this information. I provide product information based on labels only. Contact the company directly for more detailed information to be sure a product is "safe" for your child. Realize too that even if your child has safely eaten a cross-contaminated product before, that doesn't mean it will be safe the next time. Production lines change constantly, and an allergen that wasn't present (via cross-contamination) in one batch of food may be in the next batch due to what was processed on that line just prior to your product. I choose the safe route on this one and just avoid anything cross-contaminated alltogether.
You will also find that many of the same products, but in different sizes, will sometimes have different cross-contamination warnings. JellyBelly jelly beans are a good example. Some sizes of their packaging contain a peanut cross-contamination warning, but others do not. I personally just avoid these all-together! There are plenty of options for allergen-free jellybeans.
You will be surprised at ingredient lists and cross-contamination lists. Many store brand items at Wal-Mart, for example, are cross-contaminated. Many of their canned beans and tomatoes are cross-contaminated with milk. Their canola oil is also cross-contaminated with peanuts. The Whole Foods brand of ketchup is also cross-contaminated. It is easy to forget to check labels on these simple products.
Whenever I pull a product out of my pantry, even if I've served it before, I always check the label one more time. You never know when ingredient lists change. Manufacturers are always changing suppliers, and a product that is once safe may not be safe the next time you buy it.
If you are buying products online, you may want to check with the company before purchasing. Some websites do not do a very good job of providing a picture of the label where you can view ingredients. And sometimes, you can view ingredients, but not the cross-contamination warning. You may save yourself some hassle if you confirm with the website that the product you are purchasing is free from your allergens and cross-contamination.
Confused yet??? This is why I read the label every time I buy it, and every time I serve it! We're only human, and sometimes things will slip by. This double-check will help keep those errors to a minimum.