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.

04 June 2009

Has Whole Foods Changed Their Peanut-Free/Nut-Free Policy?

You may recall an earlier post, Allergen Labeling Update: Whole Foods Responds, where I mentioned Whole Foods' policy on labeling products as peanut-free or nut-free:

"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. "

I just read an article in the Worcester Telegram which states that Whole Foods in Framingham, Massacusetts and other North Atlantic region stores are selling cookies made by Massachusetts company, Indigo Rabbit. They sound quite lovely! It is the way the cookies are being marketed, specifically toward those with food allergies, that concerns me.

From the Worcester Telegram:
"The cookies, Gingerlicious, Luscious Lemon Chewies, Heavenly Chocolate Pillows, Seriously Cinnamon Almond and Perfectly Peanut Butter, all have a common ingredient — fresh vegetable puree. Suggested retail is $4.99 to $6.99, depending on variety.

The cookie names alone cry out, “Try me.”

But it’s the nutritional labeling that tells the story. Consumers who want a tasty cookie that is lactose free, gluten free, egg free, nut free, soy free and vegan turn to Indigo Rabbit, according to Foster, a former psychotherapist who specialized in eating disorders."

These cookies are in packages bearing various allergen-free symbols, depending on the variety. Some varieties actually bear a peanut-free symbol and nut-free symbol, despite the fact that the company manufactures peanut butter and almond cookies. Confused? Did our eyes deceive us? They use nuts and peanuts in their manufacturing facility and declare cookies without those ingredients to be "peanut-free" and "nut-free"? This is a perfect example of why the FDA needs to set standards thresholds or allergen-free claims.

From the Merriam-Webster Online dictionary:

"intransitive verb : to lead astray : give a wrong impression"

The company does provide additional information on its allergen policies and procedures to avoid cross-contamination. The information on their website sounds familiar, like the statements that major companies such as Kraft or Heinz read to me when I call for additional information about potential for cross-contamination. I am sure you've heard those statements too.

It seems it's time to call Whole Foods again and inquire about any changes to their definition of peanut-free and nut-free. I'm all for mom-preneurs and supporting local business, and if we did not have a peanut allergy in the family, I'm certain we'd happily enjoy Indigo Rabbit cookies. I think it's fantastic that Indigo Rabbit is a local company making healthy cookies and I wish them much success. Getting a product into Whole Foods is a great accomplishment. Since we do have a peanut allergy in the family, however, I am painfully aware of the very real risks, and I am compelled to find out more. I can't just sit by and say nothing because I think of that unsuspecting customer who might buy that package of cookies with the comforting peanut-free or nut-free symbol, and might unknowingly give a peanut or nut allergic loved one a cookie which she thinks is 100% peanut-free or nut-free.


Unknown said...

I've been following your dialogue about this on Twitter. Keep us posted. This is outrageous!

ChupieandJ'smama (Janeen) said...

Oh that is truly frustrating. Thanks for bringing to our attention. It's because of sites like yours that these things come out in the open and those with food allergies can remain reaction free. You would *think* that you can trust a product like that. I'll be sticking with my Enjoy Life cookies.

Lynn said...

How frustrating. I hate when I see products that lack facilities warnings and they're right next to nutty products by the same company. I didn't realize that Whole Foods didn't sell those. My biggest peeve with Whole Foods (which I feel I can criticize because I am slowly giving them my life savings...we live practically next door to a W.F. store) is their cross-contamination warning on almost every store brand product they make. I don't know much about manufacturing costs, but I wish they could find a way to use some segregated facilities, or at least do batch testing. As it is, I don't buy a ton of things that I otherwise would. And they're probably safe (like frozen sweet potatoes). It reminds me of the Dunkin Donuts allergy message on their door that any of their products may contain any allergen. Thanks - very helpful. :P

Unknown said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. One good thing is that as soon as I pointed out the apparent inconsistency in the peanut-free and nut-free labeling policy, they immediately said they would look into it. So many companies try to argue with the customer instead of taking the inquiry seriously and looking into the matter. So, kudos to Whole Foods for the good initial response. I will be interested to hear what they have to say after they've done some checking. I'll keep you posted!

Anonymous said...

As a mother of a 4 year old with very serious peanut, and tree nut allergies- I am at war with my local whole foods store because of labeling issues in their own bakery! While they seem to police other brands, they consistently misrepresent their own line of products baked on their premises.
Everything made in their bakeries has cross-contamination with NUTS- yet nothing is labeled that way.
Beware. Do not buy their vegan products, or their breads- they have all been mixed and made with the same bowls and baked in the same ovens as their walnut brownies and peanut butter cookies!
Do not get fooled!

Mom of 4 said...

Yes, they also sell Barney Butter a peanut free almond butter made in an almond only facility. My family eats it because my son is highly allergic to peanuts. It's a great alternative, we love it!!