Mislabeled Food Products Risk Allergic Reaction

About 80 percent of all food products are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates meat, poultry and egg products. Both agencies have regulations governing food production, labeling and recalls.

Rarely does a week go by without reports of a food recall. The number of annual recalls has more than quadrupled since 2006 when there were 154 food product recalls. In 2016, there were 650 food recalls, 540 of which fell under FDA jurisdiction and 110 under the USDA.

One issue that can lead to a recall is “mislabeling.” Mislabeling occurs when a food product’s label does not accurately reflect its ingredients. A common reason for a recall is improper identification of allergens. There are more than 160 foods that can cause allergic reactions in people with food allergies. The FDA recognizes the eight most common allergenic foods, which account for 90 percent of allergic reactions to food. Those are milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans. These eight foods and any ingredient that contains protein derived from one or more of them are designated “major food allergens” by the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA) and require specific labeling.

If a product is not properly labeled, the consequences could be life-threatening. A person with severe food allergies could experience anaphylaxis, which could lead to constricted airways, severe lowering of blood pressure and suffocation by swelling of the throat. Sometimes symptoms start out mild and can become more serious in a very short time. Allergic reactions can include hives, flushed skin or rash; a tingling or itchy sensation in the mouth, face and tongue; lip swelling; vomiting and/or diarrhea; abdominal cramps; coughing or wheezing; dizziness and/or lightheadedness; swelling of the throat and vocal cords; difficulty breathing; and loss of consciousness.

Many instances of mislabeling are caused by cross-contamination, which occurs when an allergenic or undesired product comes into contact with the product but is not listed on the label. Food product producers, manufacturers and distributors must take care to accurately label their products that contain allergens and to prevent cross-contamination. If contamination is discovered, a recall is likely on the horizon. It is imperative to notify the FDA, USDA and consumers promptly to prevent injury and contain the problem.

The FDA and the USDA have helpful guidelines and reporting links on their websites. For more information, see https://www.fda.gov/Food and https://www.fsis.usda.gov.