Monday, January 17, 2011

Constant Vigilance!

Here's a nice little food allergy story for you, happened a couple of weeks ago. I was at the grocery store and I was checking out chocolate (as I am wont to do on occasion). Of course I was looking at the Green & Black's selection because they are A.) yummy and B.) excellent about food allergy labeling.

I even wrote about my experience with their company last summer, and the very nice friendly exchange I'd had with someone in their customer service department. The long and short of it was that their labels will carry any cross-contamination information. If there's nothing on the label, then it will be free of the allergen. In my dealings with the company, I felt understood as a food allergy parent and their information gave me confidence that they take food allergies seriously. And so therefore, I trust their labeling practices.

But it is still incumbent upon me (and Ryan) to check the labels on everything we bring into our house. And so on this day a couple of weeks ago, I was reading the back of the Green & Black's Almond bar, a variety that he has safely eaten in the past. I was upset to find the words: "MAY CONTAIN WHEAT, TREE NUTS, AND PEANUTS." Ryan was with me and I showed him the label. We were both standing there saying to each other "Oh man! They must have changed their manufacturing facility for the almond bars. Bummer!"

Just so you know, we avoid any foods with even small possibility of peanut contamination because the allergist and we believe that Ryan has a high risk of a reaction to even very minute amounts of peanut based on his personal history and test results. Some people have a different cross-contamination policy than we do--it's a very individual decision. For us, it's not worth the risk (and Ryan agrees).

So, back to the grocery story. While Ryan and I were bemoaning the change in manufacturing practices, I noticed another display carton of G & B Almond bars a few display cartons down from the one where I'd grabbed the peanut-contaminated almond bar. There was only one bar left in this other display carton. Thinking it would be futile, I pulled that bar off of the shelf and checked the back of it. And what do you know? This second bar had a different label--the label I'd been expecting to see, with no peanut warning!

I tried to take a picture of both bars with my phone. Couldn't get it focus though, but maybe you can at least see that they are the same kind of chocolate bar (almond) and that their labels are different.

The peanut-contaminated bar has a red exclamation point next to it (I added that, of course!) and the allergen statement reads:


The non-peanut-contaminated bar has a yellow exclamation point and the allergen statement reads:


The listed ingredients are the same for both bars.

So, here's the thing--I still do trust Green & Black's labeling practices. But I am so very very glad I decided to look at that other chocolate bar. I hate that they are making at least some of their almond bars in a facility with peanuts, but I am so happy that they are disclosing that information in a clear way.

I am puzzled at the change from listing out the particular tree nuts to the general term "tree nuts." Saves space on the label? I don't know--tree nuts as such are not an issue for us, but I think if we did have a tree nut issue I'd be happier knowing exactly which ones are present or possibly present.

I'm glad Ryan was with me, too! We had a nice little talk about the labels and the company and how companies make their products and why they might switch ingredients or even factories. We talked about our family's policy regarding label-reading (our policy is: Read Every One), and we reaffirmed that we wanted to continue this type and level of vigilance. We also talked about companies that have labeling practices we trust (like Green & Black's and Hershey's) and companies that have sloppy labeling practices (like Duncan Hines) and how we like to give our business to those more trustworthy companies.

Overall, a good learning experience and a strong reminder to check every single label, every single time.

We decided we were going to be like Mad-Eye Moody: CONSTANT VIGILANCE!

1 comment:

Happy Elf Mom said...

Oh Jenn, what a disappointment! Poor Ryan. We've discovered that Great Value products can be contaminated with milk. HOW can you get milk in your jelly? That's just weird. Or EGGS in your pepper? What are these people doing? Our food allergies are not as serious, but I'm reading every label and finding that companies must think EVERYTHING must taste better with a slab o' butter on it. :)