A Food Allergy Research & Education study found that consumers with food allergies misinterpret food labels that read "may contain" allergens or "manufactured on shared equipment" with allergens as safer than foods that clearly contain that particular ingredient, according to UPI.
Manufacturers are required by the U.S. Food Labeling and Consumer Protection Act to label major allergens such as wheat, egg, milk, peanuts, soy, tree nuts or seafood if the substance is included as an ingredient. Precautionary allergen labels, however, are voluntary.
According to researchers, both types of products are equally dangerous, but 40% of shoppers with food allergies buy products with precautionary labels.
With up to 15 million Americans—about 1 in every 13 children—suffering food allergies, and thousands of others with intolerances to ingredients in food, this issue takes center stage. A 2013 study in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology tested several products that had label claims of "may contain peanuts," and just under 9% had enough peanut to be detected and potentially cause an allergic reaction.
Manufacturers should make their labeling clear, leaving no questions for consumers about what is safe for their consumption. The federal government may take this as a sign that it is time to clarify the laws on allergen labeling — perhaps by changing the way that "may contain" labeling is done or by launching a public information campaign to clarify what this labeling means.
Some manufacturers may be reluctant to share product information that they fear will turn off some consumers, but consumers prefer brands that they think are honest, even if some of the listed ingredients don't align with their nutrition needs. The risk of endangering consumers with food allergies and other health problems, however, is far greater to company reputations than the risk of full disclosure.