Parents of kids with food allergies seem to be complacent about warnings on product labels, regardless of their child’s history of the potentially life-threatening allergic reaction anaphylaxis, a new study revealed.

The research, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, a publication of the Australian Medical Association, involved parents of 246 children affected by food allergy and who attended the Department of Allergy at the RCH between August and October, 2011.

The team of investigators, led by Professor Katie Allen, Director of Population Health at Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, administered a survey to the parents.

The scientists wanted to observe the behavior and perceptions of parents of food-allergic kids with and without a history of anaphylaxis regarding precautionary labeling of foods.

The authors said:

“Precautionary labeling for food allergens such as “may contain traces of”, are now present on more than half of all packaged processed foods in Australian supermarkets.”

Previous studies have suggested that this high prevalence of precautionary labels, as well as the knowledge of the allergic shopper that these statements are voluntary, might have resulted in consumers not paying attention to warning labels.

This may be putting food-allergic consumers at risk of contamination, the researchers explained.

A novel warning label – “may be present” – was introduced to the food labeling regimen in 2007. However, to date, just a small number of products use it.

Results from the questionnaire showed that parents of 54 kids with a history of anaphylaxis (48%) “felt that the ingredient list information on food labels was easy to understand or use” but only six (5.4%) reported that they could “completely trust” the labels.

Between 78% and 84% of parents of children with a history of anaphylaxis considered warning labels “not useful”.

These parents also reported that “they did not know whether the food was safe to eat irrespective of the wording of the labels.”

Although there were no dissimilarities between parents of kids with and without a history of anaphylaxis in their reading of food labels, parents of children with a history of anaphylaxis had a higher likelihood of removing any foods containing the allergen from their home.

“The proportion of participants who would avoid a particular food with a precautionary label varied depending on the wording of the precautionary label”, the experts wrote.

The statement “made in the same factory” was disregarded by 65% of the participants, while the statement “may be present” was ignored by 22%.

The researchers concluded:

“The attitudes of parents of food-allergic children towards precautionary labelling appear to be complacent whether or not children had a past history of anaphylaxis. Policies that promote the use of fewer precautionary statements or more effective labelling strategies may lead to less consumer complacency.”

A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that the number of American children who have skin and food allergies has increased significantly in the last few years.

Written by Sarah Glynn