Research suggests that food allergy labels in the United States are confusing to most shoppers. Labels are often misunderstood and some types of required food allergy labeling are routinely ignored by shoppers with allergies.

The research was conducted through an online survey of more than 6,600 respondents in the U.S. and Canada answering questions about their shopping habits. Those taking the survey were either diagnosed with a food allergy or had a close family member who did.

Labels can be misleading in their warnings, making many believe that things are safe when they aren’t.

The most commonly misinterpreted labels are those with cross-contamination warnings such as “may contain” or “manufactured on shared equipment,” the study’s authors say.

Further, many respondents didn’t know that food labeling laws only apply to foods with specific allergens in them. Cross-contamination warnings, such as “may contain,” are voluntary. Most believed them to also be required. Many respondents also assumed that labels containing allergy warnings contained a specific amount of allergen, but the law says any amount has to be reported.

About 40 percent of those responding said that they purchase products with precautionary labels. The study, lead by Dr. Ruchi Gupta of the Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, was published this month in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

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