With an eye on the food allergy community as a unique group of consumers since 2008, we're on a quest to find and share ways to continue enjoying the good things in life.

12 January 2018

Food Allergy Tip Friday: Allergen-free Claims on Labels

People managing food allergies and other health conditions depend on accurate food labeling. While food labeling in the United States has improved over the last decade or two, there is still room for improvement. 

Only the top 8 most common food allergens are required to be listed by name, leaving those with less common allergies to decipher the rest of the ingredients.  Sometimes ingredients have mysterious names, such as "spices" or "fruit juice" or "natural flavoring". What do those ingredients actually contain? Those with non-top allergies have no choice but to contact the food manufacturers to ask. They may or may not get an answer.

Then there are the allergen free-from claims on food packages, which are still completely unregulated. Free-from claims on labels mean different things to different manufacturers, and can be interpreted in varying ways by consumers. There is no uniformity. A small gluten-free bakery in Rhode Island named Sans Gluten Artisan Bakery is the vendor providing cookies to a popular New England destination for young families--Santa's Village in Jefferson, NH. The bakery's website makes it clear that it is a gluten-free bakery, yet the cookies they sell through Santa's Village are labeled as gluten-free, peanut-free, tree nut free, and soy free. Some consumers may interpret that free-from labeling to indicate that the manufacturing facility or bakery is a dedicated one, free of those four allergens, but it's not.

Sans Gluten Artisan Bakery Facebook photo 
Some food manufacturers take extra measures to make their labeling clear to consumers. Take a look at the below photos of some of Enjoy Life Foods' newest products. The box has a listing stating the 15 foods Enjoy Life's Cripsy Grain & Seed Bars are free from, and also has a separate statement underneath the ingredients stating "Made in a dedicated nut and gluten free facility."  This voluntary statement leaves no confusion about which allergens the facility is free of, and makes determining the safety of this food easier for consumers with food allergies.

It is so easy for food manufacturers to make their labeling clearer, as Enjoy Life Foods has. 

One tool which may help consumers with food allergies make more sense of labels is SmartLabel (http:///www.smartlabel.org). It is a tool whereby consumers can scan in a food label, and ingredient and other information from the manufacturer is provided, often more than what you can see on the label. There is a tab for manufacturers to provide information, such as voluntary information about the manufacturing facility and possible cross-contamination. Any time food manufacturers go above and beyond FDA's labeling requirements, they really deserve acknowledgement. By the same token, when manufacturers purposefully provide vague labeling, they should receive feedback requesting clarification. As the saying goes, knowledge is power, and consumers with food allergies should be able to easily locate information to determine if a food is safe or not. It shouldn't be a mystery.

Disclosure: Food Allergy Buzz has received free products from Enjoy Life Foods.

28 October 2017

Food Allergies and Halloween: It's OK If There is No Teal Pumpkin

My children are too old to trick-or-treat now. They are teenagers. When they were young enough to trick-or-treat, there was no such thing as the Teal Pumpkin. I quickly discovered that swapping out the candy for something sweet at home wasn't enough for my younger son. Just touching the packages of candy while trick-or-treating caused him to get hives. Not full body hives, just several on his face. After that year, gloves became a routine part of his Halloween costume. Just because he couldn't eat the candy collected and couldn't touch the packages with his bare hands without a reaction of some kind, didn't mean we would miss out on that fun! These were all tiny manageable challenges. 

I can't tell you how much time was spent on costumes!! There were several years when he was quite a Buzz Lightyear fanatic. One year, I even found inflatable Buzz Lightyear wings to add to his already awesome Buzz Lightyear costume. It was all about the costume. His allergies were peanut and tree nut allergies, so I would buy candy from Tootsie and also Vermont Nut Free Chocolate and have it ready at home. We would make plans with friends and go to the neighbor's Halloween party, and the kids had a blast. Food allergies played NO role whatsoever. They were not part of the equation because we really did not focus on the candy collected. We did, however, enjoy being with our friends and neighbors, and they LOVED playing flashlight tag in costume in the dark. Isn't fun what it is all about?!

The Teal Pumpkin is a great addition to Halloween for those who really want to enjoy a treat collected while trick-or-treating. Many people are still figuring out just what the Teal Pumpkin means. We food allergy folks need to be patient and give people time to hear about and find out what it is. I even saw a letter to the editor written by a food allergy mom with all kinds of inaccurate information. Her heart was in the right place; she was trying to educate her community. But she has some incorrect info--she wrote that FARE has a "safe list (nut free)" and also "Items that are considered “safe” candies are listed below, but just note that at times items change so parents of allergic children should always check labeling before children eat any items....The following items are among those listed as safe: Divvies (anything made by Divvies), Haribo Gummy Candy, Skittles, Peeps, Swedish Fish, Altoids, Mike and Ike, Hershey plain chocolate bars and Kisses (personal size only), Laffy Taffy, Runts, Tootsie Rolls, Junior Mints, Lifesaver Gummies, Smarties, Sour Patch Kids, Whoppers, Sweet Tarts, Bottle Caps, Pop Rocks, Hot Tamales, Red Vines, Jolly Rancher, Twizzlers, Kraft Marshmallows, Trader Joe’s milk and semi-sweet chocolate chips."

If you visit FARE’s page about the Teal Pumpkin Project, you won’t find a safe candy list and certainly not a nut free list. The Teal Pumpkin Project is intended to help make children with ALL food allergies feel included. While the well-meaning food allergy mom shared inaccurate info, we have to give her credit for going the extra mile and trying to educate her community! Kudos to her for trying! That is more than many of us do; I know I haven't written any letters to the editor. Maybe I should start! Kids with Food Allergies does have an Allergy-Friendly Halloween Candy Guide, listing candies which are top-8 allergen free. Perhaps the well-meaning mom was thinking of that list?

So….what to do if there are no Teal Pumpkins near you?
·    Feel angry or frustrated at your neighbors? I hope not! It’s really unreasonable to expect people to know about something for a disability that isn’t on their radar and doesn’t affect them personally. The Teal Pumpkin Project is still new! Be patient and give it time. Maybe next year you can write a letter to the editor to your local paper explaining what the Teal Pumpkin means.
·   Avoid trick-or-treating? Heck no! Kids LOVE getting in costume, and then seeing neighbors’ reactions at their costumes when they open their front doors. Have something safe for Halloween ready for your kids at home afterwards, and just briefly explain to your child that safe goodies (maybe a surprise!) are at waiting home and that mom or dad will take the unsafe goodies to work for other folks to enjoy. Or maybe you’ll donate the candies! Don’t miss trick-or-treating. Let your kids be kids. They really don’t need to be able to eat what they collect or get a safe treat from neighbors. You can easily handle that part at home yourself.
·    Be the first house with a Teal Pumpkin in your neighborhood! Publicize it in your local paper. Be the change you want to see!

Wishing all food allergy friends a happy and safe Halloween!

26 October 2017

Food Allergy Consumer: Considering Mylan and Kaleo

First things first. Let me begin by stating that I am a huge fan of the Auvi-Q epinephrine autoinjector. Provided it functions as well as the competition or better, I do not think you can beat its discrete size and shape, and its user-friendliness. It's fantastic and we were thrilled when Kaleo put it back on the market in the U.S.

Having observed many things food allergy related for more than a decade now, however, I am concerned by Kaleo's recent initiatives and campaigns. I am getting flashbacks to Mylan's intiatives and campaigns. I remember how enthusiastically bloggers and the non-profit food allergy organizations collaborated with Mylan. I know disease awareness campaigns by pharmaceutical companies are nothing new, and often do provide benefits to patients, but in light of the highly publicized price-gouging by Mylan, one would hope the food allergy community is taking note of Kaleo's similar marketing via awareness campaigns.

While many patients have received Auvi-Q--delightedly--for $0 thanks to Kaleo's amazing Affordability program, countless publications have reported that the list price for Auvi-Q and its starting price for health insurance companies is $4500. Does anyone really think that Kaleo will eternally charge patients $0 for Auvi-Q? How could that be possible? Modernhealthcare.com states "It's been widely reported that the actual list price for Auvi-Q is $4,500, which will be the starting point for insurers to negotiate discounts and rebates. It appears Kaleo will foot the bill for patients with commercial insurers that choose not to cover Auvi-Q." For many of us, health insurance already has astronomical costs, what will happen down the road as a result of the high bill for insurance companies that do cover Auvi-Qs? It all seems too good to be true, and unfortunately, that usually means it is. At some point, something is going to change, but what? We will wait and see.

Now some hail the latest awareness campaign, this time anti-food allergy bullying in collaboration with national food allergy non-profits. I believe I read that 1000 parents of children with food allergies were surveyed. We have about 15 million people with food allergies, with a large percentage of them being children, so 1000 parents is an extremely small sample! And how was this tiny sample of parents recruited and selected?  It just doesn't make me feel warm and fuzzy about Auvi-Q. The actual device itself really is impressive all on its own. These campaigns, in my opinion, diminish Kaleo and make it resemble its competitor Mylan; not a good thing. 

I know the Edwards "get" food allergies and I appreciate that. It is noteworthy. And I do love Auvi-Q! But I haven't forgotten how a few years ago, Mylan strategically ingratiated itself with food allergy bloggers, non-profit organizations, and the overall food allergy community with its awareness campaigns and initiatives, as it jacked up the price of its life-saving medicine. So, what is the difference between Mylan's awareness initiatives and campaigns and Kaleo's? And then what is the difference between Mylan and Kaleo as companies? I also have to wonder about the non-profit organizations too--why the silence about Auvi-Q's high starting price for insurance companies, and the silence over the years while the price of Epi-pens rose? I don't have answers to these questions, but they are certainly worth considering. A little consumer skepticism is warranted following the infamous activities of Mylan.

20 August 2017

Food Allergy Consumer Product Review and Giveaway: WholeFruit Bars and Sorbet

The kids are headed back to school but summer’s not over yet! As they say, timing is everything. We’re in a little heatwave here in southeastern Massachusetts, and we at Food Allergy Buzz have been enjoying some delicious frozen treats courtesy of JJ Snack Company—WholeFruit Sorbet and Fruit Bars. 

In this part of Massachusetts, WholeFruit products are available at Demoulas Market Basket. You can use the WholeFruit product locator on the WholeFruit website to find out where the products are sold near you.

All WholeFruit products are fat free, gluten free and dairy free. They are also Kosher. Food Allergy Buzz asked for detailed information about ingredients and risk of cross-contact and  JJ Snack provided very complete information. In order to make sure we do not miss any important details, we are including JJ Snack's response below. They were very forthcoming and aware of the concerns of consumers managing food allergies.

"In regards to your allergen questions: All of our frozen novelties for Whole Fruit are gluten-free.  There is no gluten present at the plants that make these products.  At the location that makes our Whole Fruit Organic Juice and Whole Fruit Sorbet, there are no peanuts present at the plant.  The only tree nut that is present is Coconut, which is used for specific flavors.  There is, however, a presence of dairy and soy at this plant.  On the line that makes our Sorbet, there is only a presence of Milk & Soy.  On the line that makes our Organic Juice Tubes, there is a presence of Milk, Soy and Coconut. 

On the plant that makes our Whole Fruit Fruit Bars, there are no peanuts present at the plant.  The only tree nut that is present is Coconut, which is used for specific flavors.  There is a presence of dairy & soy at this plant.  Dairy, soy and Coconut are present on the line that makes our fruit bars.

We do have a cross contamination procedure that is practiced and followed at all of our plants.   All products containing milk are produced all at once.  When those products are complete, the machines are shut down and go through a three-part sanitation wash.  It is an automated sequence of a wash, rinse, and sanitation bath.  The final sanitation rinse and the first non-allergen batch of products are tested for allergens.  If the tests pass, then the batches are packed.  If they fail, the cycle repeats until they pass.  However, if this is something that you are very concerned with, it is better to be safe than sorry and not consume the product." 

The FAB Review
Dedicated facility: All facilities are gluten-free, peanut-free and tree nut free except coconut. Soy and dairy are present in the facilities. See above for details about shared and dedicated lines.
Appearance: colorful; nice packaging! Sorbet has plastic seal on each pint, underneath cover.
Taste: natural real fruity flavor. (The ingredients include fruit purees.)
Texture: smooth, not icey or creamy
Convenience: available at many supermarkets
Buy again? yes!

Cool Off with WholeFruit

18 August 2017

Food Allergy Consumer Tip Fridays: Epi-Trak

image from http://www.epi-trak.com/
Food allergy support groups and blogs are abuzz with back-to-school questions, concerns, and tips. For those with children and teens who self-carry their epinephrine auto-injectors, there is always the worry that the child or teen will forget to carry their epinephrine auto-injectors with them. Enter EPI-TRAK, an app that reminds you to check and make sure you have your epinephrine auto-injectors with you when you leave your home or whatever locations you program into the app’s settings. The app allows the use to program multiple locations.

Epi-Trak is available on Android and iOS. You can download Epi-Trak for free and the first 20 alerts are free as well. After the first 20 alerts, there is a one-time fee of $3.99.

For additional information, visit http://www.epi-trak.com/ . Epi-Trak is available on Google Play and the Apple App Store.

07 August 2017

Food Allergy Consumer Product Review: PhillySwirl

Disclosure: Food Allergy Buzz received complementary samples of PhillySwirl for this product review.

Sometimes there is nothing more refreshing on a hot summer day than a cold treat from the freezer. PhillySwirl has become a go-to solution for those with top 8 food allergies in need of a frozen treat!

Philly Swirl is available at many supermarkets today and has quite a selection of frozen treats now. In July, we at Food Allergy Buzz sampled a selection of PhillySwirl treats, courtesy of our friends at PhillySwirl. We were excited to try PhillySwirl's ICEE MixItUp, Swirl Cups, Swirl Stix and Jungle Swirls. They really hit the spot on these hot summer days!

While we had enjoyed Swirl Cups and Swirl Stix previously, Jungle Swirls and ICEE Mix It Up were new to us. We enjoyed the fruit flavors in the Jungle Swirls as much as the sweet candy taste of the ICEE Mix It Ups. Also exciting, the Jungle Swirls are non-GMO too! In fact, we noticed some other new products on Philly Swirls' website are non-GMO as well. Every PhillySwirl product is so delicious, we would happily enjoy any or all of them again. In fact, we already do!

PhillySwirl is one of the few frozen treats consumers with food allergies can find in their grocer's freezer that actually states it is peanut free and made in a peanut free facility. It's extremely rare to find frozen treats that can make that claim and so state it right on the package and not just on the phone.  That's not all--the manufacturing facility for 3 out of the four products we sampled is also dairy free and gluten free, and none of the Philly Swirl products contain any high fructose syrup. The ICEE Mix It Up Stix are free of dairy ingredients but are not manufactured in a dairy free facility at this time. Every PhillySwirl product we sampled did not contain any of the top 8 most common food allergens. Moreover, all four samples were Kosher. That's pretty hard to beat!

Not only is PhillySwirl one of the most allergy friendly frozen treats on the market today, it also is available at a price that is budget friendly--usually around $2.99 for a box. And if you look at the calories, they are amazingly low calorie too--only between 40 and 50 calories each. It's a food allergy friendly win for Mom's budget (and waistline!), and you can pick them up a nearby supermarket!

The FAB Review: PhillySwirl
Dedicated facility: Yes. Some products are manufactured in a peanut-free, gluten-free and dairy-free. Some products products are manufactured in a peanut-free and gluten-free facility.
Appearance: Eye-catching colors, fun packaging.
Taste: Sweet. Some flavors have a candy flavor and others fruity.
Texture: Similar to italian ice and other ice pops, but slightly more solid
Convenience: Very easy to find at supermarkets around the U.S.
Buy again? yes!

Reminder: Always check the label and ingredients to determine if a food is safe for the allergies you are managing!

21 July 2017

Food Allergy Consumer Tip Fridays: "Is this safe?"

Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40818260

If you have a question about a product...

Is this safe?
Is this made in a dedicated facility?
Is this made on shared lines?

Contact the manufacturer youself. It is SO easy to do! If they are not open, you can always email them and you will receive an answer soon enough, or just call when they do open.

We hear so much talk--especially lately!--about the risk of anaphylaxis, and yet so many parents post to a group of strangers on Facebook, asking if a food is safe? When it comes to a matter of life and death--especially for a child!--I would think most of us would prefer to get the information straight "from the horse's mouth." (the manufacturer)

Let's be honest, it is never that urgent to use a specific food item. There is always something else to eat. C'mon food allergy mommas, we owe our kids more!

Own your food allergies or your kids' food allergies. Do your own due diligence and teach your children to do the same. Contact the manufacturer yourself.
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