Food Labels

The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) is the primary federal law governing how allergens are represented on packaged foods sold in the U.S. Learn more from Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE).

The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) is the primary federal law governing how allergens are represented on packaged foods in the U.S.

How FALCPA Changed Food Labels

People affected by food allergies need to be able to identify potential allergens quickly, easily and accurately. This is especially important for parents and caregivers of children with food allergies.

This federal law, which passed in 2004 and took effect January 1, 2006, seeks to do just that. It requires that food labels note allergens in plain language.

FALCPA affects all packaged foods sold in the U.S. This includes:

  • conventional foods
  • vitamins and dietary supplements
  • infant formula and foods
  • medical foods
  • all retail and food-service establishments
  • vending machine food items
  • packages labeled for individual sale

The law does not apply to:

  • prescription and over-the counter drugs
  • personal care items (such as cosmetics, shampoo, mouth wash, toothpaste or shaving cream)
  • Kosher labeling
  • pet foods, supplements and supplies
  • any made-to-order restaurant food placed in a wrapper or container
  • any food product regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (meat, poultry and processed egg products)
  • any food product regulated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (alcoholic drinks, spirits, beer and tobacco products)

Which Allergens Are Affected?

FALCPA covers the eight major food allergens: milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and crustacean shellfish. Together these foods cause the majority of allergic reactions in the U.S.

FALCPA-regulated ingredients must be listed if they are present in any amount—even in colors, flavors or spice blends. Manufacturers must list the specific nut, fish or crustacean shellfish present in the food (e.g., almond, tuna, crab).

Which Allergens Are Excluded?

Molluscan shellfish—such as oysters, clams, mussels or scallops—are not required to be labeled under FALCPA. Neither are seeds, such as sesame and mustard.

Other exemptions include whole fruits and vegetables and highly refined oil derived from the major eight allergens, as well as any ingredient made from such highly refined oil.

Additionally, manufacturers are not required to list major allergens that may be present due to unintentional cross-contact during processing.

If you have a food allergy that isn’t one of the major eight mentioned above, you may need to call the manufacturer to determine whether a food is safe. It’s also important to remember that your allergen to be missing from an ingredient list if it is part of a spice blend, color or flavoring. This is common with ingredients such as sesame.

How Allergens Are Listed on Food Labels

FALCPA-regulated allergens can be called out in one of three ways:

  1. In the ingredient list, using the allergen’s common name
  2. Using the word “Contains” followed by the name of the major food allergen—for example, “Contains milk, wheat”
  3. In the ingredient list in parentheses, when the ingredient is a less common form of the allergen—for example, “albumin (egg)”

Although FALCPA has made label reading easier, people managing food allergies should read all labels on all packages carefully, every time. Even if you have bought a food before, ingredients can change without warning. Reading labels each time will ensure you avoid your problem food.

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