Question of the Week

January 9, 2006


With the new year, there are new laws governing what information needs to be included on foods labeled after the first of the year (2006). To begin, there is the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA).

"What is the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) of 2004?
FALCPA is an amendment to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and requires that the label of a food that contains an ingredient that is or contains protein from a 'major food allergen' declare the presence of the allergen in the manner described by the law. ...

"When does FALCPA become effective?
FALCPA applies to food products that are labeled on or after January 1, 2006.

"What is a "major food allergen?"
FALCPA identifies eight foods or food groups as the major food allergens. They are milk, eggs, fish (e.g., bass, flounder, cod), Crustacean shellfish (e.g., crab, lobster, shrimp), tree nuts (e.g., almonds, walnuts, pecans), peanuts, wheat, and soybeans.

"FALCPA identifies only 8 allergens. Aren't there more foods consumers are allergic to?
Yes. More than 160 foods have been identified to cause food allergies in sensitive individuals. However, the eight major food allergens identified by FALCPA account for over 90 percent of all documented food allergies in the U.S. and represent the foods most likely to result in severe or life-threatening reactions."

Those with allergies are often meticulous label readers -- and with good reason. While manufacturers have long been required to provide a list of ingredients, that list could sometimes be confusing.

"Food allergies -- adverse reactions to foods triggered by the immune system -- are a growing health issue. Reactions caused by food allergies can range from mild to severe, and the worst cases may result in death. Despite your best efforts, you may not always know where you might encounter a food allergen. The importance of listing food allergens on food labels has been an evolving issue, and now it's the law. ... In general, the new requirement takes the guesswork out of reading food labels -- a powerful tool for people with food allergies. For example, if a product contains casein, a milk-derived protein, the product's label must list the term 'milk' in addition to the term 'casein.' This way, people with food allergies can clearly identify and understand the presence of food allergens that they need to avoid."

The hope is that the new requirements will simplify things for those in search of safe foods.

"FALCPA does not require food manufacturers or retailers to remove or relabel products from supermarket shelves that do not reflect the additional allergen labeling so long as the products were labeled before January 1, 2006."

The catch: Foods labeled before January 1, 2006 may be on the shelves for a while. Until then, consumers still need to be careful. Even those not concerned about allergens will have have help "being careful" as new labels replace old ones in 2006.

"FDA has required that saturated fat and dietary cholesterol be listed on the food label since 1993. By adding trans fat on the Nutrition Facts panel (required by January 1, 2006), consumers now know for the first time how much of all three -- saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol -- are in the foods they choose. Identifying saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol on the food label gives consumers information to make heart-healthy food choices that help them reduce their risk of CHD [coronary heart disease]."

In order for consumers to make educated decisions, they really do need to know more than just how much fat is in a product.

"Are All Fats the Same? Simply put: no. Fat is a major source of energy for the body and aids in the absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K, and carotenoids. Both animal and plant-derived food products contain fat, and when eaten in moderation, fat is important for proper growth, development, and maintenance of good health."

"[F]at is important for proper growth, development, and maintenance of good health." But not all fat is "good" fat.

"The amount of saturated fat appears beneath total fat. The FDA also requires food makers to list trans fats separately on the label. Saturated fats and trans fats are often called 'bad fats' because they raise cholesterol and increase a person's risk for developing heart disease. Both saturated and trans fats are solid at room temperature (picture them clogging up arteries!). Saturated fat usually comes from animal products like butter, cheese, whole milk, ice cream, and meats. Trans fats are naturally found in these foods, too. But they are also in vegetable oils that have been specially treated, or hydrogenated, so they are solid at room temperature - the fats in stick margarine and shortening, for example. Some cookies, crackers, fried foods, snack foods, and processed foods also contain trans fats. Saturated fats should account for less than 10% of the calories that a child eats each day, and the amount of trans fat that your child consumes should be as low as possible."
Kids Health

Questions of the Week:
How often do you read the labels of the products you buy? What do you need to know before reading a label in order to make the best use of the information provided? What should you be looking for when reading a label? How is what you should be looking for different from what some of your friends, relatives, or peers should be looking for? How is it the same?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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