Check out this photo of a label from Breton Multigrain Crackers. From my perspective as a consumer looking to avoid even traces of peanuts or tree nuts, the label I share in the photo should be one of the "good ones." It is clearly marked with regard to any nut ingredients and clearly states that the product is made in a nut-free facility. Does a label that states clear nut allergy info boost my interest in buying the product? Absolutely.
However, take another look at the label. This particular flavor also includes sesame seeds and an allergy to sesame is on the rise, so this ingredient may be a concern to some of you reading this right now. Before we get too angry at the company, though, a quick note: sesame is not one of the "Top 8" allergens and the allergy warning in bold type on this package is totally voluntary. They didn't have to put it there, but they did.
I'm talking labels because soon those of us in the U.S. will be talking turkey--as in Thanksgiving and many of us are going to be eating at the homes of family and friends. Label reading is crazier than ever these days and food labels with regard to allergy warnings are changing like the leaves in autumn.
Consider the new labels for Ragu spaghetti sauce. Now, any time of year people are serving spaghetti and tomato sauce. I make my own--taste preference as well allergy concerns factor into this decision--so I'm not a regular Ragu customer. Howevever, I came across a troubling label discussion on the page of one of my food allergy Facebook friends. Turns out Ragu has changed some of their sauce labels to reflect nut allergy warnings due to new manufacturing lines/locations.
Oh, dear. But the thing is: This happens ALL THE TIME. Here's what Ragu had to say when I questioned them on their Facebook fan page:
Hi Jenny! We totally understand your concern about nuts in our sauce. As of 2/10, some labels of our Traditional sauce stated that the product may contain tree nuts. This is because a little amount of this sauce was produced at a different plant, thus there will be an "L" in the date code instead of a "Y" so if you want to be extra cautious, check the date code. An example of a date code would look like this: JAN2211YU010302A1. We do NOT put nuts to our Old World Style Traditional - we had to put that different label # on there just for precautionary reasons. We regularly test for allergens at that facility to ensure our products meet the highest standards quality regardless of production – and to date, no allergens have been found. As we’re sure you know, you can never be too safe – so you can stick with any date code that contains a “Y”. Thank you for your concern and we hope this information is helpful!
I know. I'm a little confused after reading that as well. However, that's all I know--if you want more info from Ragu, please ask them directly.
Additionally, the law that requires the "Top 8" allergens (egg, milk, soy, tree nut, peanut, shellfish, fish and wheat) to be listed on a food label doesn't cover other allergens and does not require any additional allergy warnings in bold type. Allergy alerts in bold type are totally voluntary under current U.S. law. Only the ingredients need to be listed in "plain English." If you have any questions, I encourage you to do your homework (as I do) and contact the companies directly. The more noise they hear, the better chance they may actually create a label that's easy to decipher as well as (fingers crossed, always!!) accurate.
The bottom line is to always, ALWAYS read food labels and inspect them before serving to an allergic person. You also want to start alerting your family now if you notice any changes in food labels you've used safely in the past.
Any other food label issues you'd like to sound off on? Readers, let's hear it. If possible, share the outcomes of any e-mails you've sent or phone calls you've made.