Experts estimate that as many as fifteen million Americans have food allergies.
For years, the U.S. has mandated that top allergens be clearly marked on all foods. But while we know that reactions to things like peanuts can be serious, did you know there are other potential allergens that aren’t necessarily labeled? Ingredients that can cause dangerous reactions to those at risk?
Just ask Alison Manhoff. Her son Hudson is allergic to a lot, and the allergies started as a baby.
“He was allergic to peanuts and tree nuts. Eventually, we added eggs, dairy, soy,” Manhoff says. And then, sesame. But it wasn’t until he accidentally ate a classmate’s hummus in preschool that they found out just how serious that allergy could be.
“They immediately used an epinephrine device to provide emergency care and called an ambulance.” Hudson had suffered an anaphylactic reaction.
Manufacturers aren’t required to list sesame. In fact, currently only the top eight allergens-- milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat—must be declared on labels.
That’s a problem, according to Dr. James Baker, Jr., CEO of the Food Allergy Research and Education, or FARE. He says there are over 100 foods proven to cause allergies and reactions can be severe, like with the sesame.
“We’ve had severe reactions, in some cases even deaths, from sesame allergy," according to Dr. Baker.
He says consumers need to be on alert because ingredients can show up in foods you wouldn’t’ expect.
“One of the big problems we have in this country is that you group things and call them natural flavorings.”
The FDA says “…that the eight major food allergens…account for over 90% of all cases” of documented allergic reactions.
Dr. Baker says while that’s true, that doesn’t mean other allergens are less important. “We’d like full and complete content labeling for all foods. It’s done in other countries around the world and we feel it could be done here.”
The Grocery Manufacturers Association tells us the FDA and USDA set food labeling regulations, but that “companies can disclose additional information voluntarily”. It also states that “a consumer concerned about a specific ingredient can also contact the manufacturer.”
Alison contacts manufacturers on a regular basis, but wishes she didn’t have to jump through hoops to keep her son safe. “When it comes to food allergens and the potential that it could impact someone’s life, I think we need more transparency.”
The Grocery Manufacturers Association says in an effort to provide more transparency, it has helped to pioneer something called smartlabel.org, a digital platform to provide consumers with more detailed product information.
Of course, if you are experiencing an allergic reaction– or think you are-- it is critical to seek immediate medical attention. Once you are treated, report what happened to the manufacturer so that the incident can be investigated. Make sure to save packaging and any remaining product.