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
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,
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."
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