Anyone with food allergies knows the importance of reading labels and looking for fine prints. Because by skipping the simple details or not being to understand nutrition labels, you run the risk of triggering an allergic reaction and in the worst case, running the risk of fatality.
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Regardless of whether you have a food allergy or not, it’s crucial that all people, in general, can understand the basics of food labels. It helps us to monitor what we eat and compares better options. If you are caregivers of people with allergies, its fundamental for you to understand nutrition labels so you can protect those who you care.
Common Ingredients that May Trigger Allergy
In the UAE, the Gulf Standardization Organisation (GSO) is responsible for ensuring all food manufacturers and food trade companies follow the same framework when it comes to food production. It means all foods need to be declared with information such as ingredients, country of origin, manufacturer address and other important details. This framework is designed to help end users stay safe from harmful substances from being consumed.
The following ingredients are mandatory and must be specified on food labels unless the food does not contain them. They are also the ones that may trigger allergic reactions or can cause dietary issues for some. They are:
- Nuts (Walnuts, Pine nuts, Cashews, Almonds)
- Fish (Salmon, Basa, Cod)
- Shellfish (Crab, Lobster, Prawns)
These foods are likely to trigger allergic reactions or dietary issues. The above 8 foods will always be clearly labeled on food packaging. Anyone who has an allergy with any of the above ingredients must read all food labels clearly before purchase or consumption.
Terminology You Need to Understand
- “May contain traces” – This simply means that even though the food may not contain a specific ingredient, there is no guarantee that it isn’t present. It means that you need to take extra precaution before serving it to someone with an allergy.
- “Processed in the same facilities” – This is a common phrase you might find alongside “may contain traces”. Even though the food label may say that a certain ingredient is not used to make the food, doesn’t mean that you can completely rule it out. For example, if the food doesn’t contain nuts, it is still being processed using the same equipment and facilities as food that does contain nuts.
Tips When Reading Food Labels
- Get familiar with the foods that you are allergic too. Given that you already know the ingredients you can’t have, make sure you look out for them first when choosing a food product. This will save you a whole lot of time from reading an entire food label. As soon as you see an ingredient that will trigger your allergy, put it down and choose something else.
- If you aren’t confident after reading the food label, contact the manufacturer. It is standard procedure for all food manufacturers to have contact information on all of their food packaging. Items that have been imported overseas will have the contact information of the company importing the goods. Whenever in doubt, contact them to get a more detailed response to your questions.
- Educate your children on how to understand food labels and learning more about their own allergies. Once your child is old enough to read and understand the foods that they can and cannot eat, encourage them to learn how to read and understand food labels. When they are with their friends or with other family members, they may not always know what they can and cannot eat. By understanding food labels themselves, it lessens the risk of eating a food that can trigger an allergy.
- If a food label or product is not clear or seems dodgy, don’t buy it. The chances are that the food itself was made with less care than the packaging and food label itself.
Keep in Mind
Food labels aren’t always easy to understand, and it’s easy to miss the fine print. Over time, you will get used to it, and you’ll have a better understanding of what to look for while you’re reading them. If you’re still unsure on understating food labels, speak with the staff at the store, do your research about the product, or you can bring up any questions you may have with your doctor or dietician.
If you or someone you care for has a food allergy, make sure you always check food labels for them. Even if you are feeding them the same foods you know are ok for them, food manufacturers may change products and ingredients, so its always good to check food labels even if you are familiar with the product.
If you or someone does accidentally encounter food that causes an allergic reaction, follow the standard emergency procedures necessary. As you can’t always be 100% safe from food allergies, its essential you know how to handle and manage the situation. If you are not sure how to handle an allergic reaction or want to know more about its effects on your own personal health, speak with your medical practitioner, and they will be able to advise you.
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