Friday, February 11, 2011

Peanut Allergy and Pasta Sauce Brands, Plus a Nut-Free Sauce Recipe

When you begin scrutinizing food labels for potential allergens, you never know what you're getting in for. Because current FDA laws only require actual ingredients to be listed, cross contact info sometimes makes it to the label, and sometimes it doesn't. Calling the company and doing some "food detecting" may be in order. The information you uncover (or don't uncover) will likely have an impact on what brand you toss in your shopping cart.

No matter what type of prepared food I buy, I like to see what else is offered by that brand, in a similar product. For example if I see jarred pesto sauce (may contain nuts) sitting next to red sauce, I may not buy that brand before placing a call to the company to check for cross-contact concerns.

As someone who likes to cook sauce from scratch (I find it relaxing to make sauce, don't know why but I do), it's rare that I buy pasta sauce these days. However, some nights that's all us busy families have time for and there are some really good-tasting prepared sauces out there.

Some readers have written to me about Ragu pasta sauce and apparently there was some concern it may contain tree nuts due to a few jars with this warning. I have contacted Ragu (as have many readers) and they assured all of us that their labels would reflect cross-contact concerns and that the plain sauce is safe unless otherwise marked. However, please contact them if you have further questions. We all know how quickly things can change.

I put the pasta sauce question to my Twitter followers who deal with peanut and tree nut allergies. Some of you liked Muir Glen and Gia Russa brands, while others went with Emeril's Organic brand.

At the supermarket the other day, I saw that Prego, Barilla, Amy's Organic, Classico, Bertolli and Mezzeta did not carry nut allergy warnings, along with the other brands we've listed already. If you use these brands, have you ever called the companies and what have they said? Let us know!

Besides being fresher-tasting, a homemade sauce is a great option because we know exactly what goes into it.

Here's my recipe for my favorite pasta sauce. It does contain organic beef; if you want to go meatless, this recipe is still good. :) Just be sure to add plenty of fresh parsley and basil. Also, as with any pasta sauce, the longer you simmer this, the better it gets. It's even better the next day. My family loves this recipe! Try it out this Valentine's Day. They'll think you're amazing.

Nut-Free Mom's Super-Quick Bolognese Sauce
1 lb. ground beef (I use Laura's Organic ground round)
A couple tablespoons olive oil
Freshly cracked pepper, to taste
4 cloves of minced garlic
1/2 tsp (or less if you like less heat) red pepper flakes
1/2 medium yellow onion
1 cup low-sodium beef broth (I use Swanson's organic beef broth or stock)
1/3 cup red wine; alternatively, use orange juice
1 can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes (I use Hunt's Natural)
1 tablespoon tomato paste (I use Hunt's)
About 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley or to taste
1/4 cup shredded basil or a couple tsp dried
1 tsp dried oregano

Heat olive oil in pan and add beef. Season meat with black pepper and brown in a deep skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, crushed red pepper and oregano. While this is cooking, grate onion into meat mixture using a hand grater. Cook a few minutes to soften the onion, then add broth and wine or OJ. Stir pan and deglaze, incorporating any browned bits from bottom of pan. Add tomatoes and half the parsley and basil. Stir again, then reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes. (You can do this while you boil water and cook pasta). Right before serving, sprinkle with rest of parsley and basil. Serve with your favorite pasta.


Allergy Mum said...

I agree with you. I find it so relaxing to make sauce. I make large quantities then after it is 100% cool, I divide and freeze into individual and family size portions.
Allergy Mum -

Jamie's Jewels said...

I heard Bertolli was dangerous...Someone wrote to them on another facebook page...

Jenny said...

I know what page you are talking about and while that person has good intentions, I know they have retracted statements about products before based on additional info they are given at a later date.

That said, any consumer concerned about allergies should contact the companies directly if you have questions about a product. The more of us they hear from, the better.

Anonymous said...

We recently found out that my toddler has a severe peanut allergy after a serious anaphylactic reaction. Consequently, we are going through all our food and calling manufacturers. I just got off the phone with Marjorie at Bertolli who said that while they do extra cleaning of their lines after producing a product that contains a top 8 allergen they "cannot guarantee that any of our products will be allergen free."

Off to make some of my own sauce too!


Jenny said...

I've noticed a trend lately in customer service calls w/regard to food allergies. Everyone is now adding the "we can't guarantee it" line. If the company appears to be labeling and taking precautions, that line is a throwaway to me because who in this world can guarantee anything 100% of the time?? I handle these statements by looking around at what else the company makes. If they make a lot of nutty stuff--I'm out of there. If not, I will research it and go from there. Labels! Can't live with them, can't live without them. :)

Unknown said...

Hi, I'm curious as to why you use Hunts and Swanson for your homemade sauce. Neither company labels for cross contamination. Just curious if you have called and heard something different than me. Thanks!

Unknown said...

Hi, I'm curious as to why you use Hunts and Swanson for your homemade sauce. Neither company labels for cross contamination. Just curious if you have called and heard something different than me. Thanks!

Jenny said...

Hi Kim,

I've used these two items weekly for years without any problems. I have always read the labels but I haven't called them recently. Based on what I've learned from them in the past as well as their current product info, I'm not aware of cross-contact with nuts for the basic broth (Swanson) or tomato products (Hunts).

But that's me. This is what I'm comfortable using and it's worked fine for my family -- never had a reaction in 15 (almost 16 years) of using these products. You might feel differently or have different criteria for what you are comfortable using --and that's perfectly OK. I encourage everyone to follow their own best practices for any product and to call the companies for further info (as you did).

That said, I do pay attention to changing practices, such as new products in a line or changing labels. This happens frequently, so I encourage everyone to pay attention to these changes and be aware. It may affect whether or not you want to continue using a product.

With any product questions, please defer to the most recent company info and let your own allergies, comfort level and needs be your guide.