To me, it's exciting to discover a new food at the supermarket bearing a "peanut-free" and "tree nut-free" label. Even more exciting is the phrase "made in a dedicated facility". I leave the supermarket feeling especially victorious on those days. Imagine: an absolutely safe treat from a store! Recently, I splurged and bought organic chocolate syrup to add to my children's milk and use as a topping on our homemade ice cream. The label stated it was "dairy free", "peanut free" and "tree nut free". The price tag was hefty, but what a find, I thought! When I checked the company's website, it was not clear if this syrup was made in a dedicated facility. My email to them bounced back. I called for clarification and was told that the company was sold a year ago. The website still has the previous owner's telephone number for customer service, and apparently, the label has not been updated either. Not reassuring.
This episode has made me wonder what exactly peanut-free or tree nut-free or dairy-free means. These terms are thrown around rather loosely and there isn't an industry standard in the U.S. to define them. There are many potential definitions and variations.
One manufacturer in particular caught my attention recently: Clabber Girl. At home in my cupboard, I have a can of Clabber Girl Corn Starch and a can of Rumford Baking Powder, also made by Clabber Girl. I had never thought of Clabber Girl as being peanut allergy friendly or unfriendly. The side of the Rumford Baking Powder can bears a familiar looking picture of a peanut with a line through it. It says "Produced in a Peanut-Free Facility". If you visit the Clabber Girl website's news archives, you will see just what exactly Clabber Girl means by "peanut-free":
"...no peanut products are allowed in the Clabber Girl facility. In the transition to become a peanut-free manufacturing facility the company had to utilize a Canadian protocol, because there are no established standards in the U.S. for peanut-free facilities. As a part of the monitoring process, ingredient suppliers are required to provide statements declaring their products to be peanut-free, visitors must sign a statement that they are not bringing any product into the facility that contains peanuts in any form, and product samples are sent to independent labs for testing."
To think that little red can sits on my shelf with the peanut-free symbol on it and that symbol actually means something. In this case, I know that symbol means a lot of effort and planning by the people who make Rumford baking powder. It reminds me some companies are doing their part to keep our loved ones safe. I applaud them for it.