Tools & Resources

What to do When You Think a Product is Mislabeled

In 2012, there were about 180 recalls of food products due to undeclared allergens. Some of these recalls are initiated by the manufacturer or as a result of an inspection by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), but others are initiated as a result of a consumer complaint. 

FARE frequently receives messages from concerned community members about products and product labels. It is important to note that FARE is not a regulatory body. As a patient advocacy organization, we do work to distribute information about recalls that we receive from FDA and manufacturers, and to connect consumers with FDA to report potential issues. 

Here is guidance on how to respond to a few situations regarding reporting problems with packaged foods: 

If you believe a product is mislabeled or contaminated

Example: You open a container of cookies in a package that says “Chocolate Chip,” on the outside, but the cookies inside are peanut butter cookies.

  • Keep the packaging and take photos of the product.
  • Call the manufacturer and report the situation. They will likely ask for the UPC number and the location of where you purchased the product, and may ask for you to mail them your product so they can conduct tests.
  • Call the FDA Consumer Complaint Center in your area, or report it online in the FDA’s Safety Reporting Portal.

If you had a reaction from a product that you thought was safe

Example: You read the label on a product and it had none of your allergens listed. You ate the product and had a reaction.

  • First and foremost, seek appropriate medical attention
  • Keep in mind that you may have just discovered or acquired a new allergy. If you suspect this is the case, get in touch with your allergist.
  • Do not throw away this product, its packaging, or any similar product that may have been purchased at the same time as these can be important to an investigation; put the uneaten portion into an appropriate container and freeze it unless it is a shelf-stable food.
  • Call the manufacturer and report the situation. They will likely ask for the UPC number and the location of where you purchased the product, and may ask for you to mail them your product so they can conduct tests.
  • Call the FDA Consumer Complaint Center in your area, or report it online in the FDA’s Safety Reporting Portal.
  • If the manufacturer is not responsive to your complaint and you would like to pursue independent testing of the product, you can contact FARRP Laboratory Services at the University of Nebraska. There may be costs associated with testing.

Precautionary labeling has changed on a product

Example: You frequently purchase a product that has no precautionary labeling, then you notice that there is a new warning stating “May Contain Milk.”

  • Know that these types of precautionary labels are voluntary and unregulated.
  • Call the manufacturer to inquire about any recent changes in manufacturing and labeling so you can make an informed decision about the product.
  • The manufacturing situation may have changed in a manner that would now justify the use of precautionary labeling.
  • If you would like to submit a complaint, do so in writing to the manufacturer. Hearing from you directly about how these changes affect your purchasing decisions can ensure they have more information about their consumers’ preferences for future decisions. 

FARE appreciates when consumers let us know about product labeling issues, and we are happy to answer questions about the current labeling laws or how to read a label. You can contact FARE with these questions at contactfare@foodallergy.org or 800-929-4040.