Friday, May 25, 2012

Store-Bought Ice Cream and Nut Allergies: Here's the Scoop

With summer around the corner and warm weather taking over, lots of us are thinking about ice cream. Those of us dealing with nut allergies are wondering what ice cream we can possibly buy because store-bought ice cream offers an allergy label minefield. In fact, ice cream labels with regard to nut allergies (and other food allergies) are some of the most diverse and inconsistent out there. It's crazy! So how do you know what is safe for your situation and what isn’t? In the last couple of weeks, I’ve taken another look at ice cream labels from several different brands.

Here’s the scoop (forgive the pun): some labels are changing to include allergy statements and some brands simply have no allergen information on them at all. In fact, this is true for most of the “big name” brands. When you call or e-mail (Häagen-Dazs, Ben and Jerry’s and Edy’s are three I’ve contacted) they may tell you that the ice cream is made on the same lines with allergens but that a wash-down is done between batches. For severely allergic people, the chance of an allergen remaining, even in trace amounts, can be problematic, so personally I avoid these altogether. However, you might feel OK with the wash-down; that's certainly up to you.
Some brands (Cia Bella gelato, for example) have clear allergy warnings as follows: Made on equipment with eggs, wheat, peanuts and tree nuts.

Blue Bunny brand will tell you detailed allergen information on their web site and packaging. Click here for a list.
A very few (like the coconut milk-based So Delicious brand) give an allergy statement on their packaging that explains a wash down system/allergen testing they do for each flavor, even though some of their flavors contain common allergens like peanuts. While I appreciate the information, I don’t want stuff made on shared lines, period. So I’ve skipped brands with those types of labels too, though I know some people don’t and haven’t had a problem. Like so many other foods or situations, this one is personal call based on your doctor's advice, child's past reactions and general comfort level with the product.
What about Popsicles and Italian ice frozen treats? I’ve had better luck with many of those over the years, simply for the fact that most aren’t sharing lines with ice cream that contains peanuts or tree nuts. Luigi’s Italian Ice and Popsicle brand are two I’ve used without problems for years. However, I recommend calling to check each year—because the labels are changing and production practices change often. So if you see something you like and there is no allergy info, it's a good idea to call or send an e-mail to the company.

What if the customer service lines are closed when you want to call? I stick to the when in doubt, do without rule. It's always better to at least know the facts when serving a food, so if you don't know if it's safe, skip it. I find that it helps to be armed with cookies, fruit treats or other goodies when attending parties or family member's homes so that you always have something to offer your child in case the "house ice cream" is off-limits.

Sometimes it just seems easier to make your own frozen treats, especially if you are dealing with multiple food allergies. I love having an electric ice cream maker (from Cuisinart, about $50 but I use it a lot) because you can choose whatever ingredients and flavors you like. You can make sorbet, ice cream, frozen yogurt—all without worry and with a lot less of the bad stuff like chemicals and additives.
What if you want a quick treat and don't feel like waiting hours for your dessert to freeze? Have you seen the Zoku?  This fun little device makes ice pops and other frozen treats in minutes. These are so fun for kids and adults love them too—I’m thinking of picking one up this summer. They are sold at places like Williams-Sonoma and other home stores—if the kids are driving you crazy over summer break, this makes a fun project for them besides a healthy snack.
And then there’s the good old-fashioned way of creating a frozen treat. My kids still love helping to make homemade frozen Popsicles. If we have to avoid some of the store bought stuff, let’s use it to our advantage, parents, and keep the crappy stuff out of the house! Use real fruit, yogurt (if you can have it—if not, use extra fruit or juice or even a dairy-free substitute) and just a little sugar and you will give your kids a taste for healthy foods—without them even knowing it.
Here’s a favorite and easy recipe to try. Use ice pop molds or even sturdy cups, treat sticks that you pick up at the craft store and your kids’ favorite fruit for these.

Homemade Fruit Ice Pops

About a cup of your kids favorite fresh fruit or a combination: strawberries, bananas, blueberries and mangos are all favorites around here.
About 1/3 cup white sugar or to taste; you can also use honey to taste.
2 cups plain Greek yogurt (or add fruit juice, more fruit or non-dairy yogurt substitute)
Blend fruit in food processor or blender with a couple tablespoons of sugar until smooth. If you want to remove fruit seeds, skins, etc., press the mixture through a fine sieve into a bowl. Set aside. (If you are making all-fruit pops, add addtional juice and/or pureed fruit, then place half of the fruit mixture in the molds before putting in the freezer for an hour. Add popsicle sticks  into semi-frozen pops and rest of fruit mixture before going on to the final freezing step).

In a separate bowl, stir together yogurt (or yogurt substitute) and the remaining sugar until dissolved. Divide this mixture into 4 ice pop molds or cups and put in the freezer for one hour.

Add the fruit puree into the semi-frozen yogurt and swirl to create a pattern (but don’t blend thoroughly). Place your popsicle stick or the cover of your ice pop (the stick portion) and freeze for at least 2 more hours until solid.
To serve, take them out of the freezer for about 5 minutes, then remove from the molds or cups.

Note: I personally avoid ice cream shops due to cross-contact risks from scoops, other flavors, toppings and the tainted scoops going into all of the various flavors, increasing the risk of cross-contact. A lot of ice cream shops (like Baskin Robbins) now carry nut allergy warnings in the store; this post is intended to help tackle ice cream we buy at the supermarket. If you have any questions or concerns about any product, please contact companies/shops directly so that you can get all the details and be an informed consumer--that's the best defense against reactions! Thank you.


Anonymous said...

I've been reading your blogs linked off of facebook. This is my first time commenting. Thank you for this blog on the ice cream. I have just discovered the Blue Bunny products and we love them, however I do buy Edy's brand for our family. When I called them I was told about the wash down but also that they test after the wash down for any traces of contaminate. I find it interesting that we can get different responses from different people.

Billings Kids With Food Allergies said...

The Quick Pop Maker looks great! Thanks for the idea!

Goody said...

If you're not concerned with using gelatin (not vegetarian) half a tablespoon (softened then dissolved in a few tablespoons of water or juice) helps to keep fruit juice pops from freezing too hard. I'm a big fan of the paper dixie cup with a wooden stick stuck inside when it starts to freeze, but I've seen some really lovely moulds for sale.

The wash-down concept makes me uncomfortable.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone ever tried Sambazon Organic Sorbet? I was at Mother's Market yesterday and found their Acai Berry Sorbet. I just called them and they confirmed that it's not made on shared equipment with any kind of nuts. This this the first time I have found a manufacturer say this so I'm excited, but still a little apprehensive. if anyone else calls them please let me know, or has tried this sorbet please let me know.


Amy Peterson Derrick said...

Thank you for posting this (and all of the other awesome info that you post!). Your blog has been an incredible resource for me and my family =)

Anonymous said...

Hi, thank you for this post! I just wanted to add my experience with a local Baskin Robins. We have been successful in getting them to use a clean scoop and open a new container of ice cream in the back. I just explain my daughter's allergies to peanuts and tree nuts, and ask them to take those precautions for us. We have never had an issue with doing that:)

Anonymous said...

I love the idea of getting an ice cream maker, why didn't I think of that? We had one when I was a kid.

Anonymous said...

Love your blog, I refer many times when I want to double check other moms feedback. Just searched pn free ice cream bc I've been researching each company. I wanted to mention, of course this is each person comfort level, but our family just gave up Popsicle brand bc they are manufactured on the same lines as the ice creams mentioned by Unileiver. Popsicle was a staple for my daughter bc I too thought no mention of may contain on the label that it was good, I called Unileiver also bc I was desperate to hopefully find out that they use at least separate lines when I heard they were by the same manuf. I was very disappointed to hear the same as you mentioned here, "wash down" same lines etc. The person I spoke to I could tell even sounded as if she was reading from a script. I questioned on "how long" Popsicle has been manuf on the same lines and they wouldn't even tell me if this was new practice, how long etc. very disappointed with Unileiver. Just thought this wb helpful, my daughter was crushed over this but we did find Philly Swirl and Luigis.

Jenny said...

Thanks for all of the great comments, including details on the product info you've gotten from calling. Unfortunately, most companies I've called have the customer service reps reading from a script. I like to e-mail questions sometimes as occasionally I get more detailed responses.

Gratefulfoodie said...

Jenny, I am also concerned when someone is reading from a script. They often don't answer my questions.

Agreed, email is good and then I also have the answer in writing, in case I call again and receive a different answer.

Thanks for this post--I know it's older, but we need to pay attention!

Gillis said...

On a side note, my son was going on a field trip to an ice cream shop,(not the greatest idea)the teacher mentioned using a clean ice cream scoop and i said it doesn't matter if the scoop is clean if the the ice cream is made in a facility and made on shared equipment with nuts. I opted to have him go to a store before hand a get a slush, it was hard for him and he hated being different but teacher said well i know other allergic kids that go there and they are fine. I said i wasn't willing to take a chance and my son's allergist agreed. The allergist compared it to playing Russian Roulette.

Jenny said...

Thanks for the comment -- you did the right thing. And what about this: in an ice cream shop, it's not just the shared lines if the ice cream, it's the same scoop going over and over into different ice cream flavors (like pistachio for that customer, then vanilla, then peanut butter, then chocolate.) Let's say all this happens before you get there and then you ask for a clean scoop -- guess what. The ice cream tubs have been contaminated with tree nut/peanut allergens. So congrats for standing firm. It's always amazing to me that others tell us that they know better than we do how to manage our child's allergies -- like your child's teacher. "Other kids go there..." so what? All it takes is one incident or as your doctor said Russian Roulette. Remember, you know best and sometimes you just have to tell people that it doesn't matter what others do--this is what you do. :)

Liz said...

Thanks for this post... and I just wanted to say that I completely have the same reaction that Gillis stated above, anytime I get a comment like "they can just open a new tub of ice cream and use a clean scoop"! I've always thought.... but if that tub is already contaminated when it is made, what's it matter if it's new or not? Anyhow... I google every few months, searching for a manufacturer in the USA that might decide to finally have a nut-free facility. Did you know that Chapmans Ice cream in Canada has nut free facilities? But they don't and as of yet won't distribute in the USA. (sad)