04/09/2012 01:44 EDT

Food Allergy Labels Leaving Consumers Confused: Quick Study

Flickr: Smabs Sputzer

Quick Study [kwik stuhd-ee]: The Huffington Post Canada's tips to make your life a little sweeter, five minutes at a time. Think of it as a cheatsheet for your general well-being.

If you're unable to tell the difference between the words "may contain trace amounts of peanuts" and "manufactured in a facility that processes peanuts", then you're not alone. That's according to a Canadian study published earlier this month. The study called for both Canadian health agencies and US food agencies to reduce the number of existing allergy labels because the current number leaves consumers without a clear message.

"We should narrow (various allergy labels) to only one which will be clear," said Dr. Moshe Ben-Shoshan. Shoshan worked on the study and is a professor of allergy and immunology at McGill University Health Center in Montreal.

The study looked at the different variations of allergy warnings that shoppers could find in their local grocery store: "may contain" traces of an allergen, "manufactured in a facility" that processes such allergens, and "not suitable" for people with food allergies. The study found that each label had a different success rate in deterring someone from buying a product that they were allergic to or from buying a product that could trigger an allergic reaction to someone in their household.

The study spanned two years and involved over 2,400 people, a mixture of the general public and allergy advocates. The respondents were broken down into two groups: those "directly affected" who had at least one member in the household with a food allergy, and those "indirectly affected," who supply foods to others with allergies, such as daycare centres and schools.

The study found the following, among other information:

  • Roughly 44 per cent of the directly affected from the general public said they would buy a product which warned it "may contain" a particular allergen.

  • Sixteen per cent of consumers indirectly affected by food allergies were stilling willing to buy a product that may contain an allergen that either they or someone in their household were allergic to.

  • The most effective label in preventing the purchase of a product with an allergen was the "not suitable" label.

The large share of adults willing to gamble with their lives to try foods that might cause an allergic reaction has some medical professionals concerned.

"They think they can get away with a certain amount (of restricted foods) before having a reaction. I really caution them not to take chances with their health," Dr. Rauno Joks, chief of allergy and immunology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, told Fox News.

It's estimated that 2.5 million Canadians suffer from food allergies, which vary in symptoms from itchiness to breathing problems and in the most extreme cases, death.

Health Canada is set to put new food allergen labels into effect on August 4.

SEE: The 7 most common food allergens:

Most Common Food Allergens