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Allergy Information on Food Labels Difficult to Interpret

Precautionary allergen label information judged to be comprehensible by less than 40 percent of individuals

WEDNESDAY, July 21, 2021 (HealthDay News) — Both allergic and nonallergic consumers find allergen information difficult to interpret and often misunderstand precautionary allergen labels (PALs), according to a study published online July 21 in Clinical & Experimental Allergy.

Bregje C. Holleman, Ph.D., from the Utrecht Institute for Linguistics OTS at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, and colleagues examined consumers’ interpretation of allergy information on foods in two experiments using 18 packaged foods. Foods with no stated allergen versus allergen as a stated ingredient were compared with a PAL; and three common variants of PALs were compared.

The researchers found that the risk for reaction was assessed as high for foods with the allergen stated as an ingredient and low for foods without mention of an allergen. Risk assessments for PAL varied, with nonallergic participants judging risk higher than allergic participants (82 versus 58 percent). There was variation in the understanding of risk associated with PAL by health literacy. All forms of allergy information were judged to be unclear by both allergic and nonallergic consumers, especially products with no allergy information for nonallergic consumers. The perception was that products with a “Produced in a Factory” PAL were less risky than “May contain” or “Traces of” PAL; PAL information was judged to be comprehensible by less than 40 percent of participants. “May contain” was preferred over the other PALs.

“This study highlights that it is not just certain groups of consumers that need to be trained in using allergy information in a proper way, but it is the allergy information that should be improved,” the authors write.

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