An allergy warning and food labels

The FDA is temporarily allowing packaged food manufacturers to substitute ingredients without changing the labels

If you or a loved one has a food intolerance or allergy, you should pay attention to this story. The Food and Drug Administration is temporarily allowing manufacturers of packaged foods to substitute ingredients without changing the labels, meaning you might not know exactly what’s in the product. This could spell big trouble if you’re allergic to one of the substitute ingredients. Consumer Reports explains why it’s happening and how you can make safer choices when you shop.

There’s real confusion about this temporary policy. Right after the announcement, individuals and consumer advocacy groups launched a petition, sent letters to the FDA, and posted comments on its website demanding more transparency about food labels.

The FDA states that none of the ingredients being substituted can be one of the top eight food allergens without manufacturers disclosing it to consumers. But beyond those eight, the guidance is vague.

For other foods that are known to cause allergies, the FDA says manufacturers “should avoid” using them as substitutes. But saying “should” leaves it up to the manufacturer to decide what’s safe to substitute. And there are many people with allergies or sensitivities to rare ingredients that manufacturers might not know to consider.

The relaxed guidelines put people at an increased risk unnecessarily and don’t put the consumer first. So if you or a family member have a food intolerance or allergy and you’re worried about eating something, call the manufacturer to confirm that everything on the label is accurate.

And because the FDA hasn’t set an end date for these temporary rules, CR says consumers should be diligent about following up with manufacturers in the coming months so that the changes don’t become permanent. It’s also worth noting that no companies have followed this temporary policy.

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