Friday, April 10, 2009

Trader Joe's: New Romaine Salad Allergy Warning

I already knew that many Trader Joe's packaged foods are not safe for the nut-allergic, but now here's a new one to add to the list: chopped romaine lettuce.

Just goes to show you always need to read the label. I picked up the bag in the photo to your left and blithely threw it into my shopping cart without giving it a glance, because after all, it's just lettuce, right? It wasn't until I got home I happened to see the allergy warning on the package. I'm very cautious with label reading ordinarily ,but lettuce did not strike me as a potentially cross-contaminated food.

As you may be able to make out from the photo, TJ's is claiming that their chopped romaine lettuce is processed on the same lines as wheat, milk, eggs, tree nuts and soy. And that it's processed in the same facility as peanuts.

At first I thought this was an overly inclusive label (and it may be--I just don't know.) We've talked about those a lot here and many of you have brought this up on your blogs or in comments. Hopefully, the FDA is working right now to make "real" allergy labels. Remember the comments they asked for in January? That's what they want to know. What makes an allergy label useful--what makes it overly inclusive or an unnecessary hindrance to allergic consumers?

I suppose that processed lettuce could have been exposed to all of the above allergens--croutons, dressings and sometimes tree nuts are included in bags of salad. I have no choice but to go with what the label says and so I can't even serve chopped romaine from TJ's to my daughter anymore. It's kind of a blow--I like the produce there and it's usually cheap!

As the salmonella outbreaks have shown us, many companies care more about liability and bottom line than they do about consumers' health, so if TJ truly wants to protect the food allergic, that's great. I'm not sure what this label is doing there or if it's overly inclusive (and if it is, I'm irritated), but for now I'll have to take their word for it.

For any packaged vegetables or fruits, we have to be wary. For example, today I was going to buy Green Giant branded frozen spinach. As I reached for the box, I saw Green Giant green beans with almonds right next to it. I put the box down. The label did not have an allergy warning, but I don't know how they're processing their foods until I ask them. Looks like I'll be contacting the company--I'll let you know what I discover.

It looks like even chopped salad is now in the realm of foods that nut-allergic families have to look out for. And my guess is, as food allergy labels evolve, some of our old standbys will get even more new labels. Now is the time to take another look at the foods we buy.


Elaine at Matters of the Heart) said...

It seems so many things at Trader Joe's have this warning label on them. Just like you I have been finding things that did not use to have them on it, and now are off limits for us..

Jennifer B said...

I can't believe lettuce has a warning like that!!! This is crazy. I am really disgusted. Thanks for sharing this. I stopped by the lettuce in the bag because of the salmonella warnings last year, but this is just...sigh. Annoying.

Anonymous said...

That is so irritating! As the mother of a peanut/tree-nut allergic son who also has celiac disease, Trader Joe's is becoming less & less of an option for us. While it's great that they've expanded their gluten-free food options, so many of them contain peanuts/tree nuts, it's just not worth the trip.

WendyGK said...

Bummer. I've done that blithely tossing into the cart thing and regretted it later, too. My love affair w/ TJs has been waning lately. I noticed wheat on that warning label. It's showing up on a lot on their products and I don't like it either. One of the kids is showing signs of getting gluten somewhere and I am getting more conservative.

Michelle said...

Just today I noticed a similar warning label with 6 of the top 8 allergens on a bag or organic kiwi from Trader Joe's. Of course, I noticed it when I got home.

Vivian said...

Aargh! Thanks for the warning.

sabakose said...

Lettuce - really .. that's crazy! I wouldn't think to check lettuce either ... :sigh: thanks for posting this!

Lyn M J said...

Lyn...We, as mother's of children with severe allergies, must hold the FDA accountable. I recommend that we write letters to Food Allergy Initiative, who can pass them on the Rep. Nina Lowy,NY, requiring designated lines for large food manufacturers. Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe's are the tip of the iceberg. They have huge profit margins and can afford this. Let's do it.

Anonymous said...

Trader Joe's Warning - Recently in Trader Joe's and picked up some cookies "Whole Grain Chocolate Chip Cookies" - The product contains walnut meal, which is ground up walnuts!!!!!! There were no allergy warnings, other than the standard "processed in a facility . . . . . ." If I hadn't read the label, I might have given this to my child with a severe tree-nut allergy. Very irresponsible on their part. Be aware of there labels.