Reading nutrition labels is such a huge part of life with food allergies that it can sometimes feel like second nature, especially for folks living with a peanut allergy. But what does a peanut-free label look like, exactly? It’s not as easy to figure out as you’d think. This is in part because there’s no universal certified peanut-free stamp of approval.
Similar to its policy with gluten-free foods, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act issued by the Food and Drug Administration only considers a product to be peanut-free if peanuts are in the ingredient list. This can be dangerously misleading: products manufactured in the same facilities as peanuts aren’t necessarily homefree due to both airborne peanut particles and trace amounts that can cause allergic reactions.
No Certified Peanut-free Label
There is currently no certified peanut-free label for packaged products. Unlike gluten-free products, there are very few third party companies that certify products as “peanut free.” Some independent organizations are taking action to change this. Peanut Freedom is devoted to establishing a universal and easy way to identify which foods are safe for people with peanut allergy and which foods need to be avoided. Their aim is to work directly with manufacturers to determine whether products are truly peanut-free and to ensure the appropriate products are clearly label products with a recognizable seal of approval.
Current FALCPA Regulations
The FALCPA was established by the FDA in 2004 to create clearer labeling of foods for people with food allergies and requires foods to state in plain English if they contain one of the top 8 food allergens (milk, egg, peanut, tree nut, wheat, soy, fish, and crustacean shellfish). This includes any flavoring, spice, coloring, or processing aid that helps in the making of the food product but may not be a major ingredient. The FALCPA labeling applies to packaged foods, conventional foods, vitamins and dietary supplements, infant formula, medical foods, and food-service establishments.
While the creation of the FALCPA is a positive step in food labeling, some loopholes to the law do exist. Current FALCPA standards only require manufacturers to highlight when peanuts are one of the major ingredients in a product. This means wording matters, as well as being familiar with how foods are processed. Items like highly refined peanut oil will not be listed as a major allergen. However, people with peanut allergy need to avoid any expeller pressed, extruded or cold pressed peanut oil, as these types of oil do contain peanut protein and must be listed on the label as an allergen. Being familiar with the various names for peanuts (including arachis, nut pieces, and goober peas, to name just a few) is also crucial in reading food labels, even with the FALCPA.
FALCPA Advisory Statement Regulations and Requirements
Advisory statements such as “may contain peanuts” or “processed in a facility that also processes peanuts” are entirely voluntary and not currently required by the FALCPA. Not only is this information optional but there are no standards for the wording of such critical information. This means that manufacturers do not legally have to disclose potential allergens that may have been introduced as part of the manufacturing process.
What steps should you take to make sure you’re really eating peanut-free, even if your food labels tell you otherwise?
1. Regardless of the advisory statement (if there is one), always avoid products that were processed in a facility that manufactures peanuts, even if the ingredient list is free of peanuts.
2. Become familiar with phrases that indicate the presence of peanuts protein: arachic oil, arachis, arachis hypogaea, artificial nuts, beer nuts, boiled peanuts, cold pressed, extruded or expelled peanut oil, crushed nuts, crushed peanuts, earth nuts, goober peas, ground nuts, ground peanuts, hydrolyzed peanut protein, mandelonas, mixed nuts, monkey nuts, nu nuts flavored nuts, nut pieces, nutmeat, peanuts, peanut butter, peanut butter chips, peanut butter morsels, peanut flour, peanut paste, peanut sauce, peanut syrup, Spanish peanuts, Virginia peanuts
3. Contact manufacturers directly if you have any questions about specific item labels.
4. Use your Nima peanut sensor for more piece of mind, especially if you question the information a nutrition label is–or is not–giving you.
What are some of your experiences reading peanut-free nutrition labels? We’d love to hear about them! Let us know in the comments.