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.

24 March 2009

Cupcake Mystery Solved

In February, I wrote about cupcakes and muffins made in New Hampshire's nut-free Freed's Bakery. Freed's converted to a completely nut-free facility in February 2008. Their cupcakes and muffins are sold at supermarkets around the country, sometimes bearing a Freed's nut-free label and often not. In fact, a number of supermarkets near me carry Freed's mini-cupcakes-- popular items for children's celebrations--but they still bear supermarket labels and disclaimers stating they may have been in contact with a number of allergens including nuts! With a peanut allergy in the family, foods with a disclaimer are off limits.

Freed's confirmed over the telephone that they are indeed nut-free, but I don't feel comfortable taking someone's word over what is written on the label. After all, a mistake could be fatal. It took a number of telephone calls to Shaw's Supermarkets, but I learned that many supermarkets occasionally open the cupcake packages to add seasonal decorations or sprinkles. Shaw's Supermarkets is one such customer, and rightfully uses its own label with disclaimer about the possibility of cross-contact. Other supermarkets have similar practices. Which supermarkets sell the cupcakes and muffins direct from Freed's, untouched? Members of Food Allergy Support have found them at certain Walmart locations and Market Basket supermarkets, complete with a "nut free" label. Unfortunately, there is no list of stores that sell the cupcakes and muffins as is, decorated and packaged by Freed's. If the package does not bear that nut-free label, there is a chance the supermarket may have opened the package to add decorations, and there's no way to know if the decorations are nut-fee.

I've suggested that Freed's consider changing the packaging so it would be easier to know if a package has been opened at the store. As they are now, the label is what holds the package closed. I purchased Freed's cupcakes--to my son's delight--at a Market Basket store, complete with nut free label, and found I was able to remove the label enough to open the package and then reseal. That's not exactly tamper-proof or good for avoiding cross-contact! I understand Freed's is investigating options for different packaging.

Conclusion? Keep doing what you're doing! Read those labels, call the manufacturers, and know your own comfort level.
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