Role of food labels in accidental exposures in food-allergic individuals in Canada
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BACKGROUND: Little is known about the impact of food labeling on the allergic consumer. OBJECTIVE: To determine the proportion of food-allergic individuals attributing an accidental exposure to inappropriate labeling, failure to read a food label, or ignoring a precautionary statement and to identify factors associated with accidental exposures. METHODS: Food-allergic individuals or their caregivers were recruited from a Canadian registry of individuals with a physician-confirmed diagnosis of peanut allergy and from allergy awareness organizations. Participants completed questionnaires regarding accidental exposures due to specific food labeling issues. The association between accidental exposures and characteristics of food-allergic individuals or their caregivers was estimated using multivariate logistic regression models. RESULTS: Of 1,862 potential participants, 1,454 (78.1%) responded. Of the 47.8% (95% confidence interval [CI], 45.1%-50.5%) of respondents who experienced an accidental exposure, 47.0% (95% CI, 43.1%-50.9%) attributed the event to inappropriate labeling, 28.6% (95% CI, 25.1%-32.2%) to failure to read a food label, and 8.3% (95% CI, 6.3%-10.7%) to ignoring a precautionary statement. Food-allergic individuals who were allergic to peanut, tree nut, fish, or shellfish were less likely to experience an accidental exposure due to the allergen not being identified in plain language. CONCLUSIONS: A considerable proportion of accidental exposures are attributed to inappropriate labeling, failure to read labels, and ignoring precautionary statements. Clear and consistent labeling of food allergens combined with increased consumer education is necessary to improve consumer confidence and compliance and to reduce accidental exposures.