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Study: Allergy Information is Hard to Find on Product Labels

NEW YORK - A recent study conducted by Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York found that just 7 percent of parents of allergic children could correctly spot milk as an ingredient in foods found in grocery stores across the nation, Reuters reports. Labels were also a problem for parents of youngsters allergic to a variety of foods, including peanuts, egg, soy, fish and wheat.

"In the United States, food ingredient information is written for regulators and scientists, not for the average consumer," said Anne Munoz-Furlong, founder and CEO of the nonprofit advocacy group Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN). She spoke to reporters during the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

It has been estimated that 6 to 7 million Americans are allergic to at least one type of food, according to Reuters. In addition, more than 30,000 incidents of severe food reactions occur in the United States every year, including up to 200 deaths.

In the study at Mt. Sanai, Dr. Preeti Joshi and colleagues had 91 parents of children with food allergies read the package ingredient lists of 23 products available in most U.S. supermarkets.

The researchers found that less than 1 in 10 parents spotted milk as an ingredient 100 percent of the time.

"With milk, the major problem occurred when symbols were used on food packaging, such as 'D' to indicate dairy, as opposed to the word milk, or other words indicating milk," Joshi told reporters. "The other thing that caused problems was the use of other words such as casein or whey."

Munoz-Furlong said many large food companies have tried to make ingredients lists clearer and simpler since FAAN issued its voluntary Food Allergy Guidelines last year.

"We're already getting feedback from consumers that some labels in the marketplace are now updated for these guidelines--they are much easier to read and understand," she said. But more needs to be done. "What we are hearing, unfortunately, from small- to mid-sized companies is that until the FDA regulates it and requires it, they will not do anything."
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