Among other things, the labels had to include plain-English descriptions of ingredients and possible allergens. For example, "milk" is used instead of "casein."
But the issue of "may contain"-type labels was not addressed. Such warnings can include "may contain peanuts," "processed on shared equipment," or "manufactured in a facility that processes peanuts or milk."
Consumers (and probably some experts) have been confused by this sort of labeling, which, said Sicherer, is not regulated.
Of supermarket-sourced, randomly selected food products that had such labeling, 5.3 percent had detectable levels of one of three allergens: egg, milk or peanut.
Among products tested that did not carry "may contain"-type labeling, 1.9 percent had detectable levels of one of the allergens.
In all, 399 products were tested.
Although the researchers did not specifically look at this, about half of the 19 products containing an allergen might prompt a reaction in sensitive people, Sicherer said.
The group also did not explore which food types or groups were more likely to contain allergens, but other researchers reporting at the same meeting found that dark chocolates were a leading offender.
A food industry spokesman said that current labeling is guided by the best available science.
"Our members are committed to ensuring that food allergic consumers have the information they need on the food label to make informed choices about whether or not a particular food item is appropriate for them to eat," said Brian Kennedy, director of communications at the Washington, D.C.-based Grocery Manufacturers
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