December 29, 2005
A new law passed by Federal Government has decreed that people with food allergies should have an easier time reading and understanding the ingredients on food labels.
For some people, these food labels are a matter of life and death. About 150 Americans die each year because of allergic reactions to eight major foods. Under the "Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act", the labels must say if a product contains one of these allergy-causing foods. But that's only the beginning of this new law.
"Two percent of adults and five percent of children have food allergies," said Dr. Diane Wakat, of the Nutrition Center.
Most allergic reactions come from eating the basics: wheat, eggs, milk, peanuts and soybeans. These are products that may or may not be listed on the ingredients, until now.
Effective January 1, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act states companies must label each ingredient in plain language.
"Say it has albumen in it. Albumen is egg white, so people need to know that egg is in there if they're allergic to eggs," said Dr. Wakat.
It may make the list of ingredients shorter, and it will also save lives.
"Hopefully this will help prevent some visits to the emergency room," said Martha McKechnie, a consumer.
There is no longer a need to bring a calculator to the store when it comes to figuring out how many calories are in a serving. Now, the serving size will be the entire box.
Also under the new law, companies must list the amount of trans fats that are in the product. Dr. Wakat said if you see any ingredient with the word 'partial' in it, walk away because that's a trans fat and it will do damage to your heart.
"Once we get rid of trans fats--just by that process alone--we can reduce the incidents of heart disease by a third," said Dr. Wakat.
Consumers know the FDA's new law is fighting an uphill battle.
"Obesity is such a problem in our nation and I really feel it's important that we start to focus on ways to make people more aware of their calories consumed," said McKechnie.
Food makers are not required to list trace amounts of allergens that might be unintentionally added to a product, but some doctors say the small amounts of contamination wouldn't be enough to cause any serious harm.