New York, NY—A new report published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology has a scary finding: some foods that contain common allergens are not labeled as such.

A team traveled to New York and New Jersey grocery stores and bought several products whose labels indicated they may contain eggs, milk or peanuts. Similar products without such labeling also were purchased. All items (401 in total) were tested for containing allergens with a lower limit of 2.5 ppm. Three of the 117 no egg-advisory foods actually contained egg; four of the 134 no milk-advisory products contained milk; but none of the 120 no nut-advisory foods contained nuts.  While this total of seven out of 371 products may seem insignificant to some people, it is unacceptable to those with food allergies and intolerances.

The group also tested the products labeled that they “may contain” an allergen. Overall, one of the 57 “may contain egg” foods actually contained egg; six of 59 “may contain milk” products contained milk; and five out of 112 “may contain peanut” foods contained peanuts. 

According to the researchers, “Our study underscores the need for allergic consumers to avoid advisory-labeled products, which present a small but real risk, and to have some concern for products without advisory labeling, particularly from small companies, especially within categories of higher-risk products. Additionally, our observation that most contamination is low-level provides an opportunity for industry and government to work together to further reduce contamination and begin formulating evidence-based guidelines on appropriate labeling to inform of risks.”

The group represents various institutions including the Elliot and Roslyn Jaffe Food Allergy Institute, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, the University of Nebraska and the Food Allergy Initiative.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, October 2010 (published ahead of print on August 28, 2010)