Consumer Attitudes Towards Packaged Foods Having Food Allergen Advisory Labeling
Sunday, March 6, 2016
South Exhibit Hall H (Convention Center)
Catherine A Mills, Julie Wang, MD FAAAAI, Jacob D. Kattan, MD
Rationale: While foods with advisory labeling (eg, “may contain”) have been shown to contain detectable levels of food allergens, it was reported 10 years ago that allergic patients were increasingly disregarding the warnings. We sought to determine whether consumers with food allergy are heeding advisory labels, if they view different formats of the labeling statement as having different risks, and reasons why they may not be avoiding these products.

Methods: Surveys (n=504) were conducted at our university-based, outpatient practice; subjects reported allergies to peanut (365), tree nuts (404), milk (150), egg (167), wheat (49), soy (46), finned fish (48) and/or shellfish (81).

Results: Overall, 55.7% of subjects report avoidance of products with advisory labels. Among subjects with peanut allergy, the number was slightly higher (59.6%). 107 (21.5%) subjects reported an allergic reaction thought to be due to cross-contamination in a product bearing an advisory label. Among participants not avoiding products with advisory labels, the most commonly cited reasons for disregarding the labels were “I believe there is unlikely to be any allergen in these products” (45.0%) and “They are very hard to avoid because so many products have these labels” (46.8%). Subjects were significantly less likely to heed a label that starts “manufactured in a facility that also” (36.6%) than “may contain” (66.5%, p<0.001).

Conclusions: Consumers with food allergy are increasingly disregarding advisory labeling despite a high rate of suspected allergic reactions to these products. While previous reports indicate some level of risk with any advisory statement, consumers continue to interpret these labels differently.