Food labeling problems: Bananas that contain shellfish

Food allergy labeling and laws are confusing and widely misunderstood, including by groups that are leaders in the field.  Here’s the latest scary example:

The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) is probably the leading advocacy group for food allergies in the U.S. On their Facebook page yesterday, FAAN posted a link to a report stating that a new preservative made from shellfish (shrimp and crab shells) has been tested and shown to slow ripening of bananas.  Shellfish are one of the 8 top allergens that must be listed, per federal law, if they are contained as an ingredient in a packaged food.  The report contained no information on the effect of such a preservative made from shellfish on allergic individuals, but there is a high potential for a problem because medical reactions are caused by the allergen’s protein shape and not the food itself. This product is not yet on the market.

On FAAN’s post was the header “Reading labels is important because…”  The implication is that such bananas will have a label. Stated emphatically, this is wrong. Bananas are a “raw agricultural commodity” and not a “packaged food” and are therefore NOT covered by the 2006 FALPCA law.  (Other non-covered items include meats, eggs, restaurant foods, cosmetics, etc.) This means no label is required on whole raw foods. And this is aside from the problem that there is a huge gap in the law regarding cross-contamination and the non-regulation of “May Contain” statements.

The U.S. needs new food labeling regulations and needs closer oversight of food modifications. This is a story that deserves more attention and more analysis, so I’m working on two pending legal research projects on this and hope to post more before long. If readers are interested I would be happy to talk further.

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1 Comment

  1. Joel

     /  September 14, 2012

    I should add that a preservative applied to the outside of a whole fruit like like this does not require labeling for a second, unrelated reason: the federal labeling law applies to “ingredients” only, which is why cross contamination (from non-ingredients) is not covered under the law.


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