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 allergen-free.

10 September 2008

Allergen Labeling Update: Whole Foods Responds

The other day, I published an Open Letter to Whole Foods after discovering contradictory allergen labels (again!) on cake slices sold at Whole Foods Market locations around Boston. Today, I heard back from the Coordinator for their bakery goods in Whole Foods' North Atlantic region stores.  

Apparently, the bakery which sells the cakes to Whole Foods changed its labels after I reported the contradictory labels in June 2008.  But a few of the old "nut free" labels were still being used in at least one of the Boston Whole Foods Markets locations, even after my calls, and involvement of the Massachusetts Food Protection Program. This time, it appears that higher level management has investigated the labeling problem, and all of the old labels have been "disposed of".  And all of the managers in the region have been informed about the bakery labeling issue, so we should not see a repeat of this problem!  

The Bakery Coordinator shared some additional information which you may find interesting.  When Whole Foods decided to carry the cakes in question, it was as a vegan product, not a "nut free" product. Whole Foods was actually unaware that the bakery is "nut free"; it is not considered "nut free" according to Whole Foods' standards.  The Coordinator said that Whole Foods has very strict requirements which must be met in order for a product to be labeled and sold as "nut-free" or "peanut-free".  In fact, there are only 2 nut-free products at Whole Foods: Sha Sha's Cookies and Divvies.  In order for a product to be labeled as "nut free" or "peanut free", the manufacturer must provide documentation that the product is certified "nut free" or "peanut free" all the way from the suppliers of ingredients to the finished product.  That sounds like a good policy to me!

I must admit I am not completely confident that this labeling problem has been solved for good because this is the second time I have gone through this exercise.  (Here's my post about the first go-round: Food Allergic Buyers Beware.)  It is comforting, however, that as soon as I contacted the Food Protection Program, they immediately set to work trying to get to the bottom of the problem. I don't think I could ask for more.   And I have hope that there's a little more awareness of labeling in the bakery.  It's another good reminder to check and re-check your labels. All of them.  Every time.   

If you encounter a concerning food labeling situation, please consider seeking assistance from some authority to urge a correction or modification.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has helpful information in a section of the FDA website titled  How to Report Problems on Products Regulated by FDA. Phone numbers are provided on the FDA website for FDA District Office Consumer Complaint Coordinators for nearly every state.  In addition, most states have enacted laws regarding food labeling as well. A good place to look for help at the state level might be the department of public health or attorney general's office.  Supermarkets and food manufacturers must be held accountable.  Food allergies can be life-threatening.  We cannot afford to overlook sloppiness on something as fundamental as a food label.
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