to Decipher Food Labels?
casein? Huh? It seems that translating food labels these days requires
a degree in "labelese." That means for parents whose kids have food
allergies, every trip to the grocery store becomes a painstaking
exercise in code-cracking. And for many, deciphering this label
language can mean the difference between life and death.
Institutes of Health report that "food allergies are increasing
in incidence and currently affect up to 8 percent of U.S. children,
tragically leaving more than 100 dead from allergic reactions each
year," explains Dr. Wesley Burks, president of the Arkansas Children's
Hospital Research Institute and professor of allergy and immunology
at the University of Arkansas Medical School, Little Rock.
kids with food allergies depend daily on ingredient labels to keep
their children healthy and safe. Just a morsel of the wrong food,
even a crumb or a dusting, can result in anaphylaxis, a rapid, allergic
reaction that can cause brain damage or death.
But new research
shows that numerous obstacles, interfere with a parent's ability
to accurately identify the allergen they must avoid.
consumers are faced with myriad barriers and landmines when it comes
to buying commercial products," explains Scott Sicherer, assistant
professor of pediatrics in the division of asthma and immunology
at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
A recent study,
published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology,
asked 91 parents of kids with known food allergies to review labels
taken from commercial products and indicate whether the product
was safe for their child.
Moms and dads
of kids with food allergies "failed miserably," says Sicherer, one
of the study's lead researchers. Despite the fact that 46 percent
of the subjects had a prior consultation with a dietitian to learn
to read labels, only 7 percent of parents were able to correctly
identify all labels that indicated milk, and only 22 percent of
parents correctly identified soy protein. Peanut, wheat and egg
were correctly identified by most parents.
results indicate the difficulty of interpreting labels, even for
educated parents, suggesting that guardians need to study label
lingo with even greater diligence. Experts unanimously agree that
parents and kids must learn to recognize an enemy allergen and all
of its synonyms.
a Parent to Do?
While it is
prudent for food-allergy sufferers and parents to take responsibility
for their own allergies, experts are pushing for changes in current
U.S. labeling practices. "We would like clarity and consistency
across the board," says a spokesperson for the Food Allergy and
Anaphylaxis Network echoing other experts pleas for plain-English
terms and the bolding of common allergens.
are a potential life or death situation that needs to be a priority;
we are working to get it done as soon as possible," says Dr. Gillian
Sheperd, a clinical associate professor of medicine at the Weill
Medical College of Cornell in New York.
the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, a worldwide organization
that includes families, physicians, school staff, government agency
representatives, and the food and pharmaceutical industries, offers
the following information to help master the most common food allergies.
for Managing Milk, Peanut, Egg, and Wheat Allergies
To manage a milk allergy, beware of the following synonyms: hydrolysates,
casein, protein, whey, ghee. Milk is used to make custard, pudding,
nougat, sour cream, yogurt, butter, and cheese. Experts warn caution
when ordering a sandwich from a deli. Deli meat slicers are frequently
used for both meat and cheese products, increasing the risk of cross-contamination.
Be on the lookout for those brands of canned tuna fish that may
contain casein, a milk protein. Finally, beware of ordering steaks
in restaurants. To add flavor, some steakhouses may lightly brush
the meat with butter.
Experts advise peanut-allergic patients avoid chocolate candies
as well as foods sold in bakeries and ice cream shops unless they
are absolutely certain there is no risk of cross-contact during
manufacturing. Be wary of fried foods which may have been cooked
in peanut oil, also known as arachis oil. African, Chinese,
Indonesian, Mexican, Thai, and Vietnamese dishes often contain peanuts.
It is recommended that peanut-allergic individuals avoid these types
of foods and restaurants.
Eggs, or egg proteins, are also identified as albumen, alvumin,
globulin, livetin, ovalbumin, ovomucin, ovomucoid, ovovitellin.
Eggs have been used to create the foam or milk topping on specialty
coffee drinks and are used in some bar drinks. The term "egg substitutes"
can be tricky. Some commercial brands contain egg whites. Most commercially
processed cooked pastas (including those used in prepared foods
such as soup) contain egg or are processed on equipment shared with
egg-containing pastas. Boxed, dry pastas and fresh pastas are usually
egg-free. Read the label or ask about ingredients before eating
Wheat is also known as enriched flour, farina, gluten, graham
flour, high protein flour, semolina, spelt, kamut and can be
found in cracker meal, bread crumbs, bran, cereal, and couscous.
At least one brand of hot dogs and one brand of ice cream contain
wheat. Some types of imitation crabmeat even contain wheat!
Caution: Sicherer points out that foods labeled with "natural
flavoring" may contain milk products or other unidentified ingredients,
so be careful to watch for this type of vague label terminology
that may be masking dangerous allergens.
Reference Source 104