“Safe” foods that aren’t safe

Not all things are hard about Benjamin’s food allergy, and there are lots of ways we have great times. We’ll post more of that in the next few days also, but some of these earlier posts set some background in case readers are newer to his allergy.

One of the things that is hard is figuring what foods are safe.  As Jennifer said yesterday, there is never a “safe list” of foods or restaurants, since manufacturing lines and preparation procedures change often.  This is frustrating to us, and to anyone who needs to provide food for Benjamin or anyone else.  (It has led others on the internet to create lists, but those aren’t a good idea generally.)  For example, one standard food often listed is the candy “Smarties.”  A quick search just now revealed that these were on a “safe foods” list for Halloween 2011 that someone created.  Here’s why that’s a bad idea.  Not all Smarties are safe!

As we bought some food last week to do some allergy training, we bought one bag of name-label Smarties (always considered safe) and one bag of a brand called “Nice! Smarties (r).” The name-brand bag is considered safe and the label does not indicate otherwise.  The off-brand bag is a 3.75oz bag sold at Walgreens and if you open the bag the individual candies are not labeled but look identical to the safe Smarties.  If you read the off-brand bag, they are clearly not safe: There is a statement “This product was packed in a facility where peanuts, tree nuts, milk and soy are used in the production of other products.”  I know quite a bit about allergies, and this one surprised me to find unsafe Smarties.  But when I just looked this up specifically, the main Smarties website says that they license their product to “rebaggers” and it might not be safe.  Ugh.  Safe food that is not safe.

For store bought foods, this means we are left reading labels.  Every label. Every time.  But as I’ll write about later, not even this is foolproof.  US law does not currently require adequate labeling of foods.  Only the top 8 allergens must be listed, and even then they must be listed only if they are actual ingredients.  Any “may contain” statement on a bag (or “packed in a facility with”) is not required by law but placed by the company to possibly protect from other legal liability.  So these show up often when they are not necessary, cutting out foods that might otherwise be safe.  And when there is NOT a may contain statement, that does not mean that the food is necessarily safe since there is not a required disclosure.  Unlabelled foods can and do cause anaphylactic reactions — as here when a girl rushed to the ER last month from one bite of Entemanns muffin that was cross contaminated with tree nuts (and not printed on the product label).

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