Friday, February 12, 2010

Everything Changes...Especially Allergy Warnings on Food Labels!

With Valentine's Day right around the corner, you're probably looking for candy that's safe or screening candy given to your child by others. I thought it was time for a little "label reading review" since it's become confusing over the years.

Hard to believe, but I've been writing this blog for more than two years. In that time I've discussed the safety of several foods for nut allergies and my number one piece of advice is always to read the label. Not to say that they are foolproof, but they are a great place to start.

And of course, labels change. Occasionally what was once labeled "safe" for nut allergies gets a new allergy advisory warning. Especially with the spotty way that companies are responding to the needs of consumers, you have to be vigilant with labels. Jay's brand OkeDoke popcorn is one example. We used to buy it until one day it had a nut allergy warning (along with several other food allergens) on its new packaging.

These changes can happen for many reasons: new managers, new recipes, new lines used for processing. You just never know so check your labels often.

Occasionally, you'll see a food recalled with no warnings on the label. I am on a food allergy recall alert list through my membership with FAAN ( and you can also visit their web site to see the latest allergen recalls.

Another site to check for allergy alerts on foods is Kids With Food Allergies.

Now, back to your basic food label reading. I make every effort to keep up with the changing labels of foods I use often and I will post any changes I find here. However, just be aware that just because a company web site no longer lists specific allergens on the web page, it doesn't mean you won't get accurate info from the actual food label. This happened recently with Sweet Tarts Candy Hearts made by Willy Wonka (Nestle foods.) The web site no longer give a list of specific allergens, just refers to the fact that some Willy Wonka candies may contain food allergens.

The package I have at home (bought a couple of weeks ago) says "Processed in a facility that handles eggs and wheat." That's pretty clear and with that level of detail and no mention of nut allergens, I would feel OK with that product.

Of course you can always call the company but check for their office hours--usually right near the customer service number. Sometimes they are only open until 5 pm or earlier -- a few are open until later in the evening. If you call and don't get an answer, try again and avoid the food until you have the info you need. Remember, nothing substitutes the saying "When in doubt, do without."

Most large food companies will let you know about the top 8 allergens on the label, so please read the labels. If allergy info is simply not present, I'd make a call or send an e-mail.

Any time I've called customer service lines, one of the things they tell me is to check each label, each time for each product. So start there, and then you'll be ready with specific questions so you can get the best answers.


Anonymous said...

"If allergy info is simply not present, I'd make a call or send an e-mail."
In other words, if the ingredients are listed (and the list does not list any pnut/nut) but there is no further warning specifically stating "may contain peanuts" or "peanut free", you would not feel safe eating it unless you called?

Jenny said...

Since allergy advisory warnings such as "may contain peanuts" are entirely voluntary and not required by the FDA, sometimes food labels will not reflect cross-contact risk.

If you're implying that it seems like a lot of work, it is. Until better, standard labels are required, we have to be the ones doing the research. You'd be surprised what you find out sometimes.

cover-it said...

At the begining labels are a lot of work. Over time, it get easier as you get to know different brands. Depending on your allergies, calling diffent brand becomes a full time job. My daughter had corn sensitivity which is in everything including toothpaste, medications, etc... Resources like this blog and other website are extremely important.

Unknown said...

Label-reading and developing a list of "safe" brands or "safe" foods is definitely part of the allergy learning curve experienced after diagnosis. Valentine's candy reminded me that those seasonal packages often are labeled differently than the year-round packages. It's SO important to always check the labels. Thanks for this important reminder!