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Who is Liable When an Allergen is Not Listed on a Product Label?

Exposure to certain allergens can lead to serious medical complications, and even death, which is why manufacturers and sellers must list ingredients on packaged food, supplements and drugs. Failure to do so can leave them liable under product liability law.

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The Dangers of Allergens

According to the FDA, around two percent of adults and five percent of infants and young children in the U.S. suffer from food allergies. The group Food Allergy Research and Education estimates that a food allergy sends one person to the ER every three minutes. Food allergy reactions can range from mild to severe and it's important for those who have been exposed to get immediate treatment.

Most food producers are keenly aware that certain allergens can have life-threatening consequences. The top food allergens are: milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soy. While there are some foods that allergy sufferers know to avoid, others may not be so obvious. For example, many sauces and flavorings contain tree nut extracts, soy and even wheat. Nutritional supplements and medications also frequently hide allergens, which is why it is so important to pay attention to labeling.

When an Allergen is Not Listed on a Label

Federal law helps to protect those with food allergies from the harmful effects of exposure. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act requires that any food product that consists of an ingredient that is, or includes the protein from a major food allergen list that allergen on the food package label in one of two ways.

The manufacturer may either name the food source by the common name of the allergen in the list of ingredients or print the word "contains" immediately followed by the name of the major allergen, when it is not included in the ingredient list. This labeling must be included on the packaging.

When a manufacturer, or seller, like a supermarket or pharmacy, does not list allergens on their packaging, they may be subject to a product liability lawsuit. Tennessee does have other allergy-related laws on the books, including a new law that allows epinephrine auto-injectors to be available in public spaces. Those who have been injured as the result of inadequate labeling on food or drugs may contact a Tennessee product liability attorney for further information on the law and requirements of manufacturers and sellers.

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