The small print
Understanding labels and ingredient lists
If your baby has a food allergy, you can’t afford to skim over the details. Knowing exactly what is in ready-made or pre-packed foods can help you make informed choices in the supermarket, which is why it is so important to have an understanding of food labelling.
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How understanding food labels can help you manage your baby’s allergy
If your baby has a food allergy you’ll know just how careful you have to be when you buy pre-packed foods. And while the thought of checking the food labels on everything you buy might at first seem daunting, it’ll soon become second nature.
Food labelling is there to help you make informed choices, and European labelling rules mean that ingredients have to be clearly listed on packs to make it easier for people with allergies to identify the ingredients they need to avoid.
A lot of packaging also carries advisory labelling. This is the ‘may contain’ message you will have undoubtedly seen on items such as breakfast cereals, biscuits and packets of nuts. This phrase is often used by manufacturers as a warning and is not a legal requirement. And while some members of the public have complained that it is used too frequently or inappropriately, the Foods Standards Agency recognises that it is invaluable for people with allergies and has been working with the food industry to provide clear guidance to the public about why these labelling terms are used and what they mean.
Tips for finding allergy information on food labels
Despite being there to help us, food labelling can sometimes be less than straightforward, with several different names being used for one common allergen. For example, the following terms are just some of the ways milk, and milk extracts may be labelled on food packaging:
- Hydrolysed milk protein
And then there are some ingredients that sound like they’re made from milk, but aren’t, such as coconut cream/milk and cocoa powder. It can be hard work at first but if you have a child with a medically diagnosed allergy, you will soon get used to identifying the ingredients your child needs to avoid.
If you find food labelling a bit confusing, you could always start by looking online at the ‘free from’ lists many supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Morrisons, Waitrose and Asda have. Whilst it’s worth remembering that some of the foods on the lists will not be suitable for babies, they can give guidance on what’s in certain products and can help you make informed choices more easily when your baby is ready for them.
By doing a little bit of research, you’ll soon know what to look out for and understand what food labelling means.
Ways to use food labelling to help manage your baby’s allergy:
- Look at supermarket ‘free from’ lists online
- Look up alternative names for allergens, i.e. milk may be labelled as ‘casein’ or ‘lactose’
Last reviewed: 13th August 2014
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