Food allergies: Rare but risky


According to Elizabeth J. Campbell, director of the center's division of programs and enforcement policy, the principle underlying standardized foods originally was that people basically knew what was in various foods.

"Originally, food standards were adopted to ensure uniformity. If you saw a product labeled mayonnaise, food standardization meant it had to be mayonnaise. People used to know what was in mayonnaise; nowadays they have to be told that mayonnaise contains both eggs and oil," Campbell says. "Years ago, when the law was first written to provide for standards of identity for certain foods, it only required that optional ingredients be declared. The new law stipulates that all ingredients in standardized foods must be declared." (See "Ingredient labeling: What's in a Food?" in the April 1993 FDA Consumer.)

Campbell believes that once the labeling is in place, consumers will have the information they need to make correct food choices. "In most cases, ingredients have to be labeled simply because they are ingredients, not because they are unsafe," she stresses. "For those with food allergies, I think it is more of a patient education problem."

Food additives, such as sulfites and certain colors, can also cause problems for people sensitive to them. (See "A Fresh Look at Food Preservatives" in the October 1993 FDA Consumer and "From Shampoo to Cereal: Seeing to the Safety of Color Additives" in the December 1993 FDA Consumer.)

"If you have a food allergy, you really have to alter your life," Tollefson says. "You have to really read labels, and really be careful about what you eat."

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