PUBLISHED: 11:15 AM on Wednesday, March 1, 2006
Labeling rules a boon for consumers with allergies
How many times have you picked up a package of your favorite food and looked at the label to see what it's made of, only to find out it might as well have been written in Hebrew?

Try figuring out what phylloquinone is or sodium selenate.

Now there's relief in sight. Recently, the Food and Drug Administration ordered food and beverage companies to start labeling things in English so the average person can read and understand them.

This is particularly good news to folks suffering from food allergies.

"As a parent, it's going to be wonderful," said Melanie Hall, whose daughter has 16 food allergies.

"So many foods have so many different names. Milk and wheat have all these different names. Sometimes they try to hide it. I asked the pharmacist about a cough and cold medicine and found out it has milk in it. Milk is in everything. The new labeling is great. It'll make our job a little easier."

Food companies are required to list the eight major allergens that cause 90 percent of all food allergies, nutritionist Micha Monk said.

"I think it'll make it much easier for people with food allergies," Monk said.

"This will empower the people who suffer from food allergies and make it easier for them to identify what's in their food. It'll make people aware."

Hall and friend Jean Snyder have formed a support group for parents of children with food allergies.

"The new labeling will be a big help," Snyder said. "I know it's going to take some time for everything on the shelves to change. The problem I'm seeing is with the specialty foods. My daughter is allergic to milk, and the kind I buy they took off the shelf.

"Then it came back with a new design and a higher price. It's like they're saying, 'We'll get you back for making us do this.'"

Higher prices are a fact Snyder said she'll have to live with.

"It'll hurt your budget, but it's still good for other reasons," she said.

"It'll be good for grandparents and baby sitters. Right now I put big red stickers on the things my daughter can't have. I'll feel safer with the new labels for other people when I'm not around. It'll also make shopping trips a lot shorter. Now, maybe instead of two hours of reading labels, I can get my shopping done in one."

Jennifer Brown, nutritionist at Baptist St. Anthony's Health System, said that as with everything else concerning our health, education is the key to reading and understanding the contents on the label.

"It might be detrimental to those who are not severely allergic to certain foods," Brown said.

"They might read the label and restrict more than is necessary from their diets. They might tend to be overcautious. It will be really helpful for those with severe allergies.