The Importance of Reading Food Labels | News | Loyola Medicine
Thursday, July 9, 2015

Loyola pediatric allergist shares the importance of reading food labels

Joyce Rabbat, MD, and patient/family

MAYWOOD, IL – It is estimated that one in every 13 children in the U.S. has a food allergy. Food allergy reactions can range from a rash to respiratory distress and even death. The uncertainty of how a child will react when exposed to food allergens is a great concern for parents.

“It is impossible to know how a child will react to a food allergen. Just because they had a mild reaction before doesn’t mean it won’t be more severe the next time,” said Joyce Rabbat, MD, medical director of the Pediatric Allergy Division at Loyola University Health System and assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics and Division of Allergy and Immunology at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

Rabbat says that avoiding the allergen is extremely important for a child with a food allergy and reading food labels is crucial for keeping the child safe.
“Avoidance is the mainstay of treatment. For a child who is allergic, ingesting even a small amount of the allergen could result in an allergic reaction. This is why becoming familiar with what to recognize on food labels is of utmost importance,” said Dr. Rabbat.

Though a 2004 law mandated that food labels list major fool allergens, not all possible allergens need to be listed. The only food allergens that must be listed are milk, eggs, soybean, wheat, peanut, tree nuts, fish and shellfish.

“Any food not on the list does not have to be listed on food labels. In addition, manufacturers are not required to list possible cross-contact or cross-contamination of the food with allergens. Many will print these potential cross contaminates, though this is not required by law. It is important for parents to be vigilant,” said Dr. Rabbat. 
Dr. Rabbat also notes that ingredients usually are listed in order of quantity.

“The first few ingredients are the main ingredients represented in higher quantities.  This is important because every child has a threshold of reactivity; in select cases, patients may tolerate small quantities of the food. But if too much is ingested, they may react.  It’s important to discuss food allergen avoidance with your allergist, to determine what is safe for an individual to eat, and what to avoid.”


About Loyola Medicine and Trinity Health

Loyola Medicine, a member of Trinity Health, is a quaternary care system based in the western suburbs of Chicago that includes Loyola University Medical Center (LUMC), Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, MacNeal Hospital and convenient locations offering primary and specialty care services from 1,877 physicians throughout Cook, Will and DuPage counties. LUMC is a 547-licensed-bed hospital in Maywood that includes the William G. and Mary A. Ryan Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine, the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, a Level 1 trauma center, Illinois's largest burn center, a certified comprehensive stroke center and a children’s hospital. Having delivered compassionate care for over 50 years, Loyola also trains the next generation of caregivers through its teaching affiliation with Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine and Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing. Gottlieb is a 247-licensed-bed community hospital in Melrose Park with 150 physician offices, an adult day care program, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, the Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park. MacNeal Hospital is a 374-bed teaching hospital in Berwyn with advanced inpatient and outpatient medical, surgical and psychiatric services, advanced diagnostics and treatments. MacNeal has a 12-bed acute rehabilitation unit, a 25-bed inpatient skilled nursing facility, and a 68-bed behavioral health program and community clinics. MacNeal has provided quality, patient-centered care to the near west suburbs since 1919.

Trinity Health is one of the largest multi-institutional Catholic healthcare systems in the nation, serving diverse communities that include more than 30 million people across 22 states. Trinity Health includes 94 hospitals, as well as 109 continuing care locations that include PACE programs, senior living facilities and home care and hospice services. Its continuing care programs provide nearly 2.5 million visits annually. Based in Livonia, Mich., and with annual operating revenues of $18.3 billion and assets of $26.2 billion, the organization returns $1.1 billion to its communities annually in the form of charity care and other community benefit programs. Trinity employs about 133,000 colleagues, including 7,800 employed physicians and clinicians. Committed to those who are poor and underserved in its communities, Trinity is known for its focus on the country's aging population. As a single, unified ministry, the organization is the innovator of Senior Emergency Departments, the largest not-for-profit provider of home health care services—ranked by number of visits—in the nation, as well as the nation’s leading provider of PACE (Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly) based on the number of available programs.