Last week’s post on reading labels gives you good basic information, but I want to carry the discussion a bit farther. This week and next I want to talk about two aspects of label reading a little more in depth.
Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA)
As a result of FALCPA, food labeling changes went into effect on January 1, 2006. This law requires that the top eight allergens, wheat, milk, egg, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, Crustacean shellfish, and soy, be listed by it’s common name. It must be listed if it is an ingredient or part of an ingredient.
The allergens can be stated in the ingredients list or in a “contains” statement at the end of the list. Some manufacturers do both.
What’s Important to Remember
Gluten is not one of the top eight allergens. While wheat is, rye, barley and contaminated oats are not part of that list. That means those gluten-containing ingredients will not be listed as part of a “contains” statement. You must read the ingredient list to look for those items, and keep in mind that they may not be clearly labeled. Malt is the best example of this because it is usually made from barley, but barley is not necessarily listed.
How I Read a Label
“Contains” statements are usually easier to read than the list of ingredients. They are often bolded and are easy to find at the end of the list of ingredients, so I start there. If the product has a “contains” statement I read that looking for wheat.
If wheat is listed in the “contains” statement then I know it is not gluten free and I put it right back on the shelf.
If wheat is not listed (or if there is no “contains” statement), I know it might be gluten free. I then start reading the ingredients looking for rye, barley (which often shows up as malt) or oats (knowing that unless certified gluten free oats are used, they are likely contaminated).
If no gluten containing ingredients are listed, I know it is probably gluten-free.
I say probably because there can still be issues of cross contamination. I will talk more about that next week.
It is important that you don’t rely on reading only the “contains” statements. Besides the fact that gluten is not one of the top eight allergens, I have seen cases where an allergen was not listed in the “contains” statement (though other allergens were) but it was listed in the ingredients.
“Contains” statements should only be used as a quick way to rule out a product, not as a quick way to determine if it is safe.
Always read labels, even on items you use all the time. Ingredients can change.
You can find more information about FALCPA at the American Celiac Disease Alliance web site.