Just how little must a product contain to be labeled ‘allergen-free?’ For those with severe allergies, this question has serious importance, as it’s possible to touch off an allergic reaction with even a tiny quantity of peanuts, shellfish, or other allergens. Yet it’s possible for a product to be labeled ‘peanut free’ or ‘gluten free’ when it actually does contain the allergen in question, saysQuality Assurance Magazine.
Though a potential allergen that is included as an ingredient must be labeled on the food package, food manufacturers also test for unintentional cross-contamination. It is currently up to the manufacturer how much cross-contamination is acceptable when deciding whether to label a product with warnings like ‘may contain nuts.’
How much of an allergen must be present in order to require a ‘may contain’ warning label? The European Union allows up to 20 ppm of some allergens, such as gluten. This is the level proposed by the FDA for food allergen labeling. But many companies promising allergen-friendly foods test to 10 ppm, while there are lab tests that will detect just 5 parts per million. While lower levels may do more to protect people with food allergies and sensitivities, opponents of 5- or 10-ppm rules say that they place unrealistic expectations on food manufacturers.