Government Making Allergens Easier to Find on Food Labels

Government Making Allergens Easier to Find on Food Labels

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Tonya Papanikolas Reporting For 11-million Americans who struggle with food allergies, knowing what's in their food is serious business. Food allergy reactions send 30-thousand people to the emergency room every year and kill up to 200 people. Now the federal government is making it easier to know.

Heidi Brough is getting a snack for her two-year-old son J.J., but J.J. doesn't eat like most toddlers.

Heidi Brough: He's allergic to chicken and beef and eggs."

...and wheat, oats, rye, peanuts, soy and milk. That doesn't leave much he can eat.

Heidi Brough: “He's uh, free to have fruits and vegetables, except for the bean group."

J.J's pretzels are wheat, milk, egg and soy-free, and he eats rice-based pasta.

To keep her son safe, J.J's mom relies on allergy cookbooks and reads a lot of food labels.

Heidi Brough: “Everything that we buy, I have to look through all the ingredients. Often times I'll leave the kids at home because grocery shopping takes a couple hours."

You might think it's easy to figure out what has milk in it, but not necessarily. Many items list it on the back, but other products might list ingredients as cacein and lactoferrin.

Dr. Alan C. Edson, Allergist, Allergy Clinics of Utah: “There are so many foods that have milk or egg or soy protein as a hidden ingredient."

But not for long. Starting January 1st, the government requires all food manufacturers to label the most common allergy-triggering substances in regular language, like eggs or milk.

Heidi Brough: “That would be tremendously helpful, and quicker in the grocery store to find foods he can have."

The new labeling applies to the eight most common allergens: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat.

Dr. Edson: “Some patients are so sensitive that they can't even tolerate small amounts as a trace ingredient."

The new labeling will also apply to spices, colorings and flavorings, which until now have been very general. For families like the Broughs, the more specific companies can get, the better.

Consumers should be aware, though many companies have already changed their labels, the law applies to food products labeled after January 1st. So products already in stores can stay there until they expire, in some cases maybe a year or longer.

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