Nausea; hives; swelling of eyes, nose, and throat; lung failure; and possibly death—these are the symptoms food allergy sufferers can endure if they consume their respective food allergen. Food allergies affect between 2%-9% of the U.S. population. Each year, roughly 30,000 individuals require emergency room treatment, and roughly 150 individuals die from allergic reactions to food.
Even minimal exposure to an allergen can cause an allergic reaction in some individuals. Currently, there is no known cure. Despite some recent successes in medical trials of alternative treatments, the primary option for those suffering from food allergies is still complete avoidance of the allergens themselves.
To avoid allergens successfully, food allergy sufferers must be able to trust information provided by food producers and manufacturers. The average individual does not produce his or her own food; instead, nearly everyone purchases food from grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and other commercial suppliers and rely on food labels to determine whether a product is safe for consumption. For food allergy sufferers, the ingredient labels on these packaged foods are lifelines to ensure their safety.
In an effort to protect food allergy sufferers, Congress passed the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) in 2004. The Act required, for the first time, producers of commercial food products to indicate on a label whether the product contained any of the eight major allergens.
The food allergy community heralded the creation of this legislation. However, the Act left one important concern for food allergy sufferers untouched: advisory label warnings. An advisory label warning is an addition to a food product’s ingredient label that alerts consumers to the possibility of contamination, or “cross-contact,” with an allergen. Some food allergy sufferers can have allergic reactions to very small amounts of allergens, including food products that were only in cross-contact with allergens.