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Food Allergen Labeling and Purchasing Habits in the US and Canada
Saturday, March 5, 2016
South Exhibit Hall H (Convention Center)
Mary Jane Marchisotto, Laurie Harada, BA, Opal Kamdar, MD, Bridget Smith, PhD, Kemrani Khan, Scott H. Sicherer, MD FAAAAI, Stephen L. Taylor, PhD, Veronica LaFemina, Maria Antonella Muraro, MD PhD, Susan Waserman, MD FAAAAI, Ruchi Gupta, MD, MPH
Rationale: Food allergies are increasing with the primary treatment being allergen avoidance. Mandatory allergen labeling has improved the safety of food for consumers. However, the presence of precautionary allergen labeling (PAL) has resulted in confusion amongst many consumers as to its significance.

Methods: Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) and Food Allergy Canada launched a survey on consumer food purchasing behavior in response to different food allergen labels in the US and Canada. Participants included those with food allergies and their caregivers who purchased their food. Data for 6,684 participants were analyzed. Associations between respondents’ country of origin, severity of previous reactions, and purchasing behaviors were analyzed using multiple logistic regression models.

Results: The top 6 allergens in the US and Canada in order were peanut, tree nuts, egg, milk, shellfish and soy. Buying practices varied based on phrasing that was used on advisory labels. Overall, 11% of respondents purchased foods stating “may contain allergen” and 40% purchased foods stating “manufactured in a facility that also processes allergen”. While 29% of respondents were unaware that the law requires labeling of major allergens, 46% were either unsure or incorrectly believed that PAL is required by law. Previous severe allergic reaction decreased the odds of purchasing foods using PAL.

Conclusions: Ten to forty percent of respondents stated that they bought products with PAL. Purchasing behaviors also varied by country and previous reaction severity. Improved awareness and guidelines are needed to assist consumers in their purchasing decisions.