Reading food labels and understanding food labelling requirements is a significant problem for families with food allergies and food intolerances.

It’s mandatory in Australia at present that foods containing the top 9 allergens have these identified on the ingredients list. These include wheat, dairy, eggs, nuts, peanuts, soy, fish, shellfish and sesame. In 2018 it will also be mandatory to label lupin.

Despite the detail on labels, they are still hard to understand which leaves many families with food allergies calling manufacturers to get more detail which takes a lot of time. It’s also a nuisance constantly reading every single label to try and find safe food for your family, especially ones that have been purchased before just in case a subtle change has been made.

These are my top tips on reading labels:

  • Be familiar with the different names of allergens that food manufacturers use. If you’re new to this, you can purchase cards from Allergy & Anaphylaxis here 
  • Unfortunately you need to read every label every single time you use a product for food allergic individuals. Manufacturers do change formulations more often than you think and they may not update their packing to reflect this
  • I recommend you still read the ingredients list even if a product claims ‘free from’ on the pack
  • Be careful with imported foods that have translated labels. Errors can happen in translation so if you’re not certain check with the manufacturer
  • Some families make the decision to avoid traces of allergens and other families don’t worry as long as the allergen isn’t in the ingredients. This is a very personal decision and I recommend asking your allergist for advice. These ‘may contain’ type statements are not mandatory so just because a product does not have this on it, you must not assume it will be safe if you do need to avoid traces. Some foods are worse for cross contamination too so your allergist may advise that for foods like muesli bars, chocolate and ice cream you avoid traces, but for other foods traces are okay
  • Gluten free does not mean wheat free. A food that’s gluten free that has wheat in the ingredients will not be safe for people with a wheat allergy. This is because some wheat is so processed that there is no gluten left, but the wheat remains. Gluten free lollies are good example of this where wheat glucose is used. The wheat glucose is gluten free as are the lollies, but they are not wheat free
  • Oats are not classified as gluten free in Australia, ever, even if labelled that way. In some other parts of the world oats free from contamination of wheat, rye and barley may be labelled as gluten free, but not in Australia. If you have coeliac disease you must not eat oats without discussing it with your doctor first. Uncontaminated oats are great for people with an allergy to wheat, rye or barley that can tolerate oats. Get more details here on oats from Coeliac Australia 
  • Anaphylaxis Australia has created this handy guide you can follow when you call a manufacturer for more details about product ingredients, you can access it here