Why is “May Contain” food labeling voluntary?

In 2006, “top eight” allergen labeling became mandated by the United States Food and Drug Administration in all packaged foods manufactured and marketed in the US.  The top eight food allergens are milk, egg, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts and soybeans.  At that time it became easier for consumers to identify what packaged foods contained their allergens.

The ingredients must be listed on the packaging and also identified at the end of the ingredient list as a “Contains” statement, i.e. “Contains: Milk, Egg.”

Many packages also include a “May Contain” statement.  This statement is placed on the package to alert consumers that the product may contain food allergens by cross contamination, though it may not be an ingredient in the product.  This cross contamination occurs when production lines and equipment are shared with other products made at the same facility.  They may produce a product such as a cookie that does not contain peanuts in it’s ingredients, but earlier have produced a peanut butter cracker on the same equipment, thereby creating cross contamination.

photography of man on kitchen room
Photo by Artem Bali on Pexels.com

The utterly terrifying aspect of “May Contain” statements is that they are completely VOLUNTARY.   While I am thankful to the companies that include these alerts, I’m frightened by the products of companies that do not include these cautionary statements.  It only takes one tiny peanut protein to incite anaphylaxis in my son.  A word of caution to those with food allergies (and the parents of children with food allergies): call the company that produces the products to ensure there is no chance of cross contamination if they do not label with “may contain” statements.

While the US has come a long way in product labeling, we still have more work to do in full disclosure regarding packaged food products.  My prayer is that “May Contain” labeling becomes mandatory very soon.  Be aware and be safe.

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