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.

09 January 2009

Allergen-Free: What Does That Mean?

Here is another example of the need for improvement in allergen labeling. The manufacturer is Good Health Natural Products. I think this company is relatively food allergy conscious and I must say their Veggie Stix are really very tasty! It's the choice of words on their allergen statement that concerns me.

On the one hand, I am very glad this manufacturer thought enough about food allergies to devote an entire page of their website to "Allergen Information". I wish more food manufacturers would do the same. In addition, the allergen information page is fairly thorough--the manufacturer has separated the products into categories--Kosher Pareve, Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free and Peanut/Treenut-Free. That's helpful because you can just scan down to the sections that apply to your situation and not wade through too much other information. 

What disturbs me is the use of the terms "Gluten Free", "Dairy Free", and "Peanut/Treenut Free". I feel these terms are confusing and possibly misleading because the following disclaimers appear at the end of the three product categories:

"Our Sweet Potato Chips are our only product ran on a dedicated line, so  here is no chance of contamination of Gluten, All other products are Gluten freebut not run on dedicated lines, so Gluten contamination maybe possible from the line."

"None of our products are run on a dedicated line, so contamination from Peanuts or Treenuts could be possible."

"Peanut Butter Pretzels Salted & Unsalted are 100% Dairy Free and run on dedicated lines. Other products are dairy free but my contain dairy contamination from the line."

It was very easy for me to find the information I needed to determine whether or not the product is safe for my child's food allergy. Our allergist's instructions are to avoid "may contains" foods, so the Veggie Stixs are off the list for us. (For those of you able to eat them, I highly recommend them. They're a great snack!) I think the "allergen-free" labels should be reserved for products that have zero amounts of an allergen as an ingredient and from cross-contamination. Calling a food "dairy free" when it simply does not contain dairy ingredients but still is at risk of cross-contamination is potentially confusing to consumers. I continue to believe that FDA needs to set standards or threshold values for food allergens as they have for "fat-free" and "low-fat" to make food labeling easier to read.

Did you know there is a definition for "free" on FDA's website? Take a look:

"What is the definition of "Free" when used on a food label?

This term means that a product contains no amount of, or only trivial or "physiologically inconsequential" amounts of, one or more of these components: fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, sugars, and calories. For example, "calorie free" means fewer than 5 calories per serving and "sugar free" and "fat free" both mean less than 0.5 g per serving. Examples of synonyms for "free" include "without," "no" and "zero." A synonym for fat-free milk is "skim.""

Your thoughts?


ChupieandJ'smama (Janeen) said...

This is why you still have to call the manufacturer for clarification or check out the website. At least this website gave that kind of detailed information. Most don't. Even if something says it's free, I call when it's the first time we've used the product. Then I check back with that manufacturer every year to make sure that nothing has changed. Thanks for sharing this information on that product. It's not something we use, but we definitely won't be now.

Vivian Mahoney said...

You'd think with all the products out there that are supposedly "free" from allergens, that there would be dedicated manufacturing sites free from contaminants that are convenient and affordable for companies.

There needs to be some accountability to companies for being able to claim these things. Wonder how we can make it happen.

Thanks for all your hard work in getting this information out there.

Libby said...

I think that the FDA is still accepting comments on allergen labeling for a few more days...just in case you had any thought on the subject!

Jenny said...

I love Veggie Stix, but my daughter can't have them anymore for the reasons you state.

Yes, we have until tomorrow to comment at the FDA! Go for it, everybody.