A new report says the hodgepodge of warnings on food labels is confusing to people with food allergies, and calls for a makeover. Foods made with allergy-prone ingredients such as peanuts or eggs must be labeled so consumers with food allergies know to avoid them. But what if a sugar cookie picks up peanut butter from an improperly cleaned factory mixer? According to the Associated Press, precautionary labels about accidental contamination are voluntary. That means there’s no way to know if foods that don’t bear them should — or if wording such as “may contain traces” signals a bigger threat than other warnings. On Wednesday, the prestigious National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine said it’s time for regulators and the food industry to clear consumer confusion with labels that better reflect the level of risk. A committee member said research shows that consumers might be simply ignoring the precautions, calling it “a form of playing Russian roulette with your food.” Food allergies are common and sometimes can trigger reactions severe enough to kill. About 12 million Americans have long been estimated to have food allergies, and scientists question if they’re on the rise. However, the report found that while food allergies are a serious public health problem, no one knows exactly how many people are affected — because that hasn’t been properly studied, in either children or adults. The report urged government researchers to rapidly find out, a key first step in learning whether allergies really are increasing and who’s most likely to suffer.
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