No One Understands, Reads Food Allergy Labels

The labels confuse consumers more than help, study says

Navigating the grocery aisles looking for peanut-free, tree nut-free, gluten-free, and wheat-free foods and other food labels may be harder than you think, a new study from Canada says. The results of the study say that no one actually reads the labels, causing greater risk for those with serious allergies.

More than 2,4000 participants were asked to decipher common phrases on food allergen labels — "may contain," "not suitable for people with ___," and "manufactured in a facility" — and found suprising results. Compred to people who had no direct food allergy, those "directly affected" by food allergies were more likely to ignore warning labels. The warning that the most participants heeded was "not suitable for ___."

So why are food allergy labels overlooked? It could be that people with food allergies make more food purchases, which could make it harder to thorougly read each warning. However, the researchers warned that adults take a bigger risk of buying allergen-unfriendly foods for themselves. Said Dr. Rauno Joks, chief of allergy and immunology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn to Reuters, "They think they can get away with a certain amount (of restricted foods) before having a reaction." Researchers and other doctors agreed that food allergy labels should be unified to make it easy for consumers to understand.

The study also found parents of kids with food allergies take the most caution when buying foods — rightfully so, as the number of kids suffering from food allergies jumped up one-third between 2003-2004 and 2007-2008, reports the CDC. In fact, one campaign to label GE foods has garnered support from 1 million Americans, which some say would make shopping for those with food allergies easier. Robyn O'Brien, founder of the AllergyKids Foundation, said, "Like allergen labeling, GE-food labels would provide essential and possibly life-saving information for anyone with a food allergy. Being responsible for the health and safety of my children, I believe it's my right to know about the food I feed my family...from allergens, to 'pink slime' to GE foods."