Understanding Labels

How to Read an Ingredient Label for Food AllergiesHow to Read an Ingredient Label for Food Allergies

Brief slideshow with audio on how to read an ingredient label, and reviews the Food Allergy Labeling Law in the US

Reading labels is important for managing food allergies.  It is not possible to know if an allergen is in a food just by looking at it.  Allergens can be found in places that you don’t normally expect to find them.  Also, food companies may change ingredients without telling consumers.  This is why it is so important for you and your child (at the right age) to read labels before eating a food.

Safety tips for reading labels

Label Reading HandoutLabel Reading Handout

Two page handout reviewing essentials of how to read a label.

Read the label before serving a food even if it has been “safe” in the past.  Remember that ingredients can change without notice.

Read ingredient lists carefully from start to finish.  Food companies do not have to make allergens stand out in any way (e.g. bolding, italicizing, or underlining the print).

Do not buy a packaged food product that does not have an ingredient label.

If you are not sure about a product, call the company to find out if it contains an allergen.

Do not buy food from bulk bins even if they have labels on the bins.  Shoppers may have used the same scoops in different bins, and this can cause cross-contamination.

Labelling laws do not cover certain products.   Read labels on non-food products such as vitamins, skin creams and pet food.  These can contain food allergens.  Other examples are modeling clay which may contain wheat, and finger paint, which may contain egg.8

Do not eat food with precautionary or advisory statements such as a “may contain”, “processed in a facility…” or “made in a factory that also processes”.  Do not try to guess whether there is a risk based on the type of statement used, even if you have had the product before.  Researchers have found that some products with these statements actually contain enough allergen to cause an allergic reaction.12

Be cautious of imported products because food labelling regulations vary by country.

Precautionary Statement on LabelsFood companies choose when to use precautionary statements. They are not required by law to do this. They can also choose when to put “allergen-free” claims such as “peanut-free” or “milk-free” on packages.

Labelling laws may change so check your country’s government website for the most recent regulations.

Label reading activities

  • Choose a few food packages from your kitchen cupboards and read the labels carefully.  This is an easy way to practice label reading.  Remember to look for precautionary statements that often follow ingredient lists.
  • Give yourself more time for grocery shopping so you can read food labels carefully.  As you become used to different products, label reading will become a habit and grocery shopping will take less time.
Teach all family members and people responsible for feeding your child how to read labels.
Teaching Children - handprint 50px

Teaching Children

Children pay attention to what you do. When they see you read labels, they will learn that this is important.

  • Even from a young age, your child can learn how to read a food label with your help. Start practicing when your child begins to read. Practice label reading at home and when shopping. This is a good way for your child to learn skills with you present. Over time, this will become a habit for your child.
  • Praise your child for reading food labels carefully. They should know you are proud of them for taking the right steps to stay safe.  
  • Your child can also practice teaching others how to read a food label.

8. Kim, J.S. and Sicherer, S.H. “Living with Food Allergy: Allergen Avoidance.” Pediatric Clinics of North America 58.2 (2011): 459-470.
12. Hefle, S.L. et al. “Consumer attitudes and risks associated with packaged foods having advisory labeling regarding the presence of peanuts.” The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 120.1 (2007): 171-176.



The information in this handbook is for educational purposes only. It is meant to help people learn how to manage a child’s allergies. It is not meant to give specific medical advice, recommendations, diagnosis, or treatment.

Readers should not rely on any information contained in this handbook as a replacement or substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis or treatment. Nor should they delay getting professional medical advice or treatment because of information contained in this handbook. Medical knowledge is constantly developing.

Please speak with your child’s doctor or other healthcare professional before making any medical decision that affects your child or if you have any questions or concerns about their food allergies.

The authors of this handbook – Michael Pistiner, Jennifer LeBovidge and Anaphylaxis Canada – as well as individual contributors and reviewers will not be held responsible for any action taken or not taken based on/or as a result of the reader’s interpretation (understanding) of the information contained herein.

Please note that AllergyHome is not affiliated with Boston Children’s Hospital

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