The term “allergen free” is often spoken in the food allergy community. You might have heard the term “allergy safe” as well. There are 8 main allergens, and so Allergen-free refers to products that are free of the current top 8 allergens as recognized by the FDA. Those allergens are: dairy, wheat, eggs, soy, shellfish, fish, tree nuts (including coconut) and peanuts. That means they contain NO wheat/gluten, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, egg, soy, fish or shellfish - the allergens that account for 90% of all food allergic reactions in the United States.
About 12 million Americans have food allergies . That’s roughly the populations of New York City and Los Angeles combined. Throw in the number of Americans with intolerances to gluten (at least three million) and lactose (40–50 million), and we’d more than quadruple that number. In the U.S., the Food Allergy Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) requires milk, egg, peanut, tree nut, wheat, soybean, fish, or shellfish ingredients in all foods regulated by the FDA to be listed in plain English either in the ingredient statement or in a “contains” statement immediately after or adjacent to the ingredient statement. However, there are currently no laws governing the use of advisory labeling such as “may contain”- no regulations explaining what different versions of these warnings actually mean (i.e. a label may state “made in the same facility as” when it is actually “made on the same equipment as”), and no requirement that food manufacturers do anything to warn consumers of the potential cross-contamination risks of their products. The use of the entire range of “may contain” types of statements is completely voluntary – if you see one, take it seriously, and avoid that product if it lists foods you need to avoid. But if you don't see one, don't make any assumptions about it being safe with regard to cross contamination issues. The manufacturer may not label its products to let you know that it “may contain” an allergen.
In the first phase of FALCPA, which took effect in 2006, manufacturers of any food product that contains milk, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish, soy and wheat were instructed to clearly disclose, in plain English, the presence of these allergens on the ingredients label. Congress limited the FALCPA labeling requirements to these 8 allergens because they account for more than 90% of all food allergies in the United States. Since 2006, manufacturers must do at least one of the following:
Obviously it's helpful for people on gluten-free diets to have wheat shown on food labels, but it doesn't solve the whole problem, because derivatives of barley and rye, and cross-contaminated oats, can still be hidden in the product.
The second phase of FALCPA -- the part most important to people who shop for gluten-free food -- has not yet been implemented. FALCPA ordered the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to develop an official definition of the term "gluten-free" for the purpose of labeling gluten-free foods, along with a rule for manufacturers on how and when to use a "gluten-free" label. We know what it’s like to have food allergies/intolerances and want to make label reading as easy as possible for you. Therefore, our labels clearly state what our products do and do not contain.