Food Labeling Issues

Food labeling issues can arise when manufacturers change the way they produce a food—or when they occasionally make mistakes. Learn to report potential issues.

Undeclared allergens are the number one reason for food recalls in the U.S.

Food labels need to be accurate and truthful to help people with food allergies stay safe. Issues can arise when companies change the way they manufacture a food—or when they occasionally make mistakes.

As of 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has the authority to initiate allergen-related recalls. Recalls may be prompted by the manufacturer, as the result of an inspection by the FDA or another government agency, and sometimes by consumer complaints.

FARE’s Role

FARE frequently receives messages from concerned community members about products and product labels. While we are not a regulatory body, we do distribute Allergy Alerts about official product recalls, as well as ingredient and label changes we receive from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the FDA and manufacturers. We can also provide information on how you can contact the FDA to report potential issues.

FARE appreciates when consumers let us know about product labeling issues. We are more than happy to answer your questions about the current labeling laws or how to read a label. You can contact FARE with these questions at contactfare@foodallergy.org or 800-929-4040.

What To Do When You Think a Product is Mislabeled

Here are three common situations regarding problems with packaged foods, and guidance on how to handle them.

If you believe a product is mislabeled or contaminated

Example: You open a container of cookies that says “chocolate chip” on the outside. But the cookies inside are peanut butter cookies.

  • Keep the packaging and take photos of the product.
  • Call the manufacturer and report the situation. They will likely ask for the UPC number and the location of where you purchased the product. They may also ask you to mail them the product so they can conduct tests.
  • Call the FDA Consumer Complaint Center in your area, or report it online via the FDA’s Safety Reporting Portal.

If you had a reaction from a product that you thought was safe

Example: You read the label on a product and it had none of your allergens listed. You ate the product and had a reaction.

  • First and foremost, follow your Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Emergency Care Plan by taking the medications as prescribed, and seek appropriate medical attention.

Once you have been treated for the reaction and are doing well, review the following:

  • Keep in mind that you may have just discovered or acquired a new allergy. If you suspect this is the case, get in touch with your allergist.
  • Do not throw away this product, its packaging or any similar product you may have purchased at the same time. These can be important to an investigation. Put the uneaten part into an appropriate container and freeze it, unless it is a shelf-stable food.
  • Call the manufacturer and report the situation. They will likely ask for the UPC number and the location of where you purchased the product. They may also ask you to mail them the product so they can conduct tests.
  • Call the FDA Consumer Complaint Center in your area, or report it online via the FDA’s Safety Reporting Portal.
  • If the manufacturer does not respond to your complaint, you may wish to pursue independent testing of the product. To do this, you can contact FARRP Laboratory Services at the University of Nebraska. There may be costs associated with testing.

If the precautionary labeling has changed on a product

Example: You frequently buy a product that has no precautionary labeling. Then you notice that there is a new warning stating “May Contain Milk.” Or you notice that a product that once had an advisory statement no longer does.

  • If a precautionary statement lists your allergen, do not eat the food. 
  • If there is no precautionary statement, don’t assume that the food is safe for you to consume. You may wish to contact the manufacturer.
  • Know that these types of precautionary labels are voluntary and unregulated.
  • Understand that the way the food is manufactured may have changed in a way such that the manufacturer has chosen to add or change the precautionary labeling.
  • Consider submitting a complaint to the manufacturer. Hearing from you directly helps companies understand their customers’ preferences and how these changes affect you. This can influence their future decisions.

Contacting the FDA

The FDA handles packaged foods, vitamins and dietary supplements, infant formula, infant foods and medical foods. They regulate foods produced in the U.S. and imported items intended for sale in the U.S.

You can contact the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition Adverse Event Reporting System in the following ways:

Online: Safety Reporting Portal

By phone: (301) 436-2405

By email: CAERS@fda.hhs.gov

By mail: FDA, CAERS, HFS-700, 2A-012/CPK1, 5100 Paint Branch Parkway, College Park, MD 20740

Contacting the USDA

The USDA oversees food products that contain meat, poultry or processed egg products. You can contact the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service in the following ways:

Online: https://ccms.fsis.usda.gov/ECCF/

By phone: (888)-674-6854

 

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