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The Art of Reading a Food Label

With so many food manufacturers producing hundreds of thousands of products, grocery shopping can be a very time-consuming and frustrating task for those suffering with food allergies. To prepare for the trip, we have spent countless hours researching products and learning how to read food labels to determine which products are safe for our son.

The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) requires that the eight major allergens (milk, egg, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish and crustacean shellfish) be declared in simple terms, either in the ingredient list or via a separate allergen statement. However, FALCPA does not require the use of advisory labeling such as “may contain” or “produced in a facility with” or “produced on equipment that also processes.” The advisory labeling should not be voluntary as research has indicated that products tested have contained enough of an allergen to cause a reaction.

While we definitely have developed a list of manufacturers/products that we trust (such as UTZ, Enjoy Life, Tootsie, Frito Lay, Newman’s Own, Aldi & Jif), we always read the label before we purchase any product as you never know when a manufacturer may change the ingredients or change how a product is processed. For example, recent changes at Krispy Kreme.

When reading the food label, we always scan the product for the separate allergen statement which is usually found directly below the ingredients label as even a trace amount of an allergen can trigger a serious allergic reaction. With our son’s severe allergy, we can not take any chances.

We have grown-up and lived in Richmond for most of our lives and therefore, Ukrop’s had become our go-to grocery store even before our son’s allergy had manifested itself. We were familiar with the store layout and the products including the generics that they carried. With much time and research invested, we are creatures of habit as it is much easier to purchase the products that we know and trust then to continually expand our product selection with new items. When Ukrop’s was sold to Martin’s, we then continued to shop at Martin’s but had to adjust to the assortment of new off-brand items. With Martin’s now being purchased by Publix, we will have to start over once again. To complicate matters further, Wegman’s has now moved into the region and we have heard that this store is vast and carries a lot of brands with which we are not familiar. As a result, this would require us to spend an inordinate amount of time getting up to speed on the products, labels and allergen statements, particularly the generic branded items. It is a task which quite frankly we have not yet under taken. We are slowly migrating over to Kroger where many of the name-branded products are familiar to us. It is very tough to make the move, but at this point, we have no choice and must now become familiar with the private-label products Kroger’s carries as Wegman’s just seems too big a task to tackle at this juncture and Publix is a year away from opening its first store.

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