Reading Labels for Common Allergens

If you have a child in school, chances are you hear a lot of concern about food allergies and protecting children from exposure to their allergen. People can develop allergies to many types of food. However, eight foods are the most common allergens. They include:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts (walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, brazil nuts and pecans)
  • Soy
  • Wheat and other grains with gluten (barley, rye, oats)
  • Fish
  • Shellfish

Allergies can be scary, particularly for children who are less likely to know what is in their food. Learning how to read a food label for allergens can help you feel more in control. Here are some steps to follow to check a food label for a common allergen.

  1. Check the ingredients list on the package. Scan the list for the allergen. Sometimes the manufacturer will even highlight it with larger bold text.
  2. Sometimes an ingredient will be listed with an uncommon name. For example, a label may say ‘albumin’. This is part of an egg and will often include the word ‘egg’ in parentheses since egg is a common allergen.
  3. At the bottom of the ingredients list, there may be a statement that calls out the common allergens in that product. For example – ‘Contains: Milk, Eggs and Soy’
  4. Lastly, a product may not include an allergen in its ingredients list, but is processed on equipment that also processes a common allergen. In this case, the manufacturer may include a statement like this. ‘Processed in a facility that also processes peanuts and tree nuts.’ This allows the consumer to know that there is a risk of tiny residual particles of that allergen being in the product unintentionally.

If you have tips for managing a food allergy, please share them with us on our social media this week!

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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Gluten-Free Label Reading: The Basics

Written by Lynette Wuebker

Student Assistant, ISU Dietetics

As a college student, I am always looking for quick, easy, and healthy meals that won’t break the bank. One of my go-tos this month has been Sweet Pork Stir Fry. Here’s the catch, 10 years ago, I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, which means that I have to eat gluten-free. So how do I take a recipe that seems to be full of gluten and enjoy it? Gluten-free label reading has become my best friend as I walk through the grocery store aisles each week, and I promise it’s not as daunting as it seems!

The first thing that I look for on any package is the little black “Certified GF” stamp. If I see this, I know that the product was carefully produced so that it won’t contain any gluten. If I can’t find this, the next step is to pick up the box and start reading. Since some products have ingredient lists longer than my arm, I look for a few keywords: wheat, rye, barley, malt, brewer’s yeast, and oats. If I find any form of these words on the ingredient list, I won’t be buying it. For example, most soy sauces contain wheat as a thickener, so I have to be extra careful when looking to find gluten-free soy sauce. If I’m unable to determine if a product is gluten-free, then I don’t buy it. However, I am able to find a wide variety of foods that are gluten-free.

Click here for more information on gluten-free label reading.

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