Goodbye, "textured vegetable protein," hello, "soy." Instead of "lactalbumin phosphate," think "milk." These and other changes in food label terminology, approved by Congress last week, may make grocery shopping easier for the more than 2 million Americans with food allergies.
The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act, scheduled to take effect in January 2006, requires food companies to use the common names of the eight most prevalent food allergens -- milk, shellfish, fish, peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, wheat and soy. Currently, little-known synonyms keep some allergens hidden. The bill also requires manufacturers to list allergens in spices, flavorings and additives. The measure is also relevant to the 3 million Americans with celiac disease, an intolerance to wheat and other grains.
Mystery Meat Food allergens not only wear disguises, they turn up in unlikely places. Would you believe egg protein in marshmallows? Milk as a binder in deli meats? Some surprises can kill: Experts say that 150 to 200 deaths and 30,000 emergency room visits occur in the United States each year as a result of food allergies, with fish, peanuts and tree nuts the most likely to cause a severe reaction.
What to Eat Now Until the new law is in place, people with food allergies can decipher food labels by using cards from the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, a nonprofit advocacy group (www.foodallergy.org; 800-929-4040). Cards are $2 per allergen. Consumers can also check the Food and Drug Administration's Web site, which lists foods voluntarily recalled by manufacturers because they may pose serious health threats from allergens or contamination (www.fda.gov/opacom/7alerts.html).
-- Francesca Lunzer Kritz and Ranit Mishori