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.

03 January 2009

Allergen Labeling for Toys Involving Food

A few days ago, a reader commented on an earlier post about the Girl Gourmet (TM) Cupcake Maker. ElleMo expressed her disappointment and frustration with the lack of clear allergen information from the toy's manufacturer and was kind enough to send a few photos of the allergen labeling on her package.

You may recall that my first post about this toy was written in October 2008 following a press release from the toy's manufacturer, Jakks Pacific. The press release had caught my attention because it included this statement clearly focusing on food allergic children: 

"Kids and parents can also breathe easy when it comes to the ingredients for Girl Gourmet cupcakes which are gluten and wheat-free, trans-fat free, and made in a nut-free facility. Many children who suffer from Celiac and nut allergies will be able to participate in the art of cupcake making AND eating with all of their friends."
It sounds wonderful, doesn't it? Here is a company recognizing that children with nut allergies and celiac disease are often left out and they've planned the manufacture of their cupcake mixes with these children in mind. Little did I know, it was not that simple or "cut and dried".

I posted the "good news" from the press release on a bulletin board I frequent, peanutallergy.com, and fortunately Peanut Free Mama pointed out a discrepancy between the information in the press release and the advisory allergen information on the Girl Gourmet (TM) package she had at home. Although the press release stated that the Girl Gourmet (TM) cupcakes are wheat-free, gluten-free, nut-free and peanut-free, her package had statements suggesting that there could be cross-contact with those ingredients. 

Several of us continued to discuss the contradictory information on the bulletin board and I sent emails to Jakks Pacific trying to get some clarification. I was alarmed to think I had suggested that the toy was food allergy friendly when it now appeared it might not be. I wrote a second post in November 2008, Maybe Not So Food Allergy Friendly After All, to share what I learned up to that point.

A fellow member of peanutallergy.com was kind enough to send a photo of the allergen labeling on her package and  I also took one of a package at a Massachusetts Walmart store. These were included in a December 2008 post, Read the Labels for Toys Tooalong with a statement containing allergen information from a representative of Food-Tek, the developer of the Girl Gourmet (TM) mixes.

Photo courtesy of Gale

Photo from Jennifer B

Fast forward to January 2009, and parents are still confused by the allergen labeling on the Girl Gourmet (TM) Cupcake Maker packages. ElleMo sent me a photo of the allergen labeling on her package a few days ago.

Photo courtesy of ElleMo 

There has been no press release or statement to the general public to clarify the contradictory advisory allergen labeling of the old packages versus the new ones with the exception of a comment from a Food-Tek representative and also a Jakks Pacific representative on peanutallergy.com in December. No clarification is provided on the Jakks website or Girl Gourmet website either. I had urged Jakks and Food-Tek to make some sort of statement, and I think that was the impetus for the comments. For parents, friends, or relatives of food allergic or celiac children who don't happen to frequent the peanut allergy bulletin board, making sense of the confusing labels could be a challenge. 

Now, the Girl Gourmet (TM) Cupcake Maker has been nominated for the Toy Industry Association's (TIA) Activity Toy of the Year as well as the TIA's overall "Toy of the Year". I think it is curious that this toy which was marketed specifically toward food allergic and celiac children yet bears confusing and contradictory allergen labeling might receive such an honor. It seems highly probable that children using the toy would possibly have skin contact with the mixes, ingest them, and perhaps even breathe in particles from the mixes. Those on restricted diets--like food allergic and celiac children--rely on clear and accurate food labeling and allergen information. Jakks Pacific was aware that the old and new packages for the Girl Gourmet (TM) Cupcake Maker have different and conflicting advisory allergen information and did nothing to eliminate the confusion for that consumer group. When questions were raised repeatedly, they made a statement on a bulletin board of one website dedicated to peanut allergies but not to the general public. 

Toy manufacturers are required to label for small parts due to the risk of choking; should they be required to correct inconsistent labeling for food toys because of the risk of a life threatening allergic reaction, perhaps issue a press release to notify the general public of the labeling issue or even recall the toys? Is there already such a requirement? What do you think?

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