Most people with food allergy don’t know what ‘May Contain’ labels actually mean
Over 3,000 people with diagnosed food allergy were asked a series of questions related to food shopping and labelling as part of a recent study in the US. Less than a quarter were able to correctly answer questions about precautionary allergen labelling. Despite this, “Not suitable for people with X allergy” and “May contain” were ranked by survey participants as the top two most helpful precautionary statements on food packaging.
Based on the responses from survey participants, it appears the conversations people with food allergy have with their health care provider about precautionary labelling varies, but the information from health care providers is strongly associated with purchasing behaviours.
The majority (85 per cent) of food allergic people said they never purchase products with a “May contain traces of X allergen” label, while 35 per cent said they never purchase products with a label that states “Good manufacturing practices are used to segregate ingredients in a facility that also processes X allergen”.
In a media release related to the study findings, lead author Dr Ruchi Gupta stated that confusion around precautionary allergen labelling and what the different labels represent is causing consumers with food allergy to make their own decisions about the safety of a product based on the wording in the label.
The researchers believe that coming to consensus on a single precautionary allergen labelling statement is a crucial next step to improve labelling policy for individuals and families with food allergy.
Reference: Gupta et al. 2020 Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice. DOI: 10.1016/j.jaip.2020.09.022
Additional reporting: Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE)