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.

06 January 2009

Allergen Labeling at George Weston Bakeries

About a week ago, I wrote a post lamenting and speculating about the revised allergen statement for Thomas', one of the George Weston Bakeries brands. When I did not receive a satisfactory explanation from their consumer relations department, I emailed and also telephoned their corporate offices to find out why the allergen labeling had changed. Today, I received my answer. Jennifer Hartley, Marketing Director of George Weston Bakeries, assisted by Nancy from Consumer Relations, called to respond to my inquiry. 

They confirmed that the information I had been provided by Consumer Relations on September 29 was accurate at that time--there were no peanuts or tree nuts present in the Thomas' plants. I also learned that since then, additional facilities have been acquired and products have been shifted from one plant to another so that some of the Thomas' brand products are made in facilities which produce peanut-containing products for other companies. The George Weston Bakeries brands--Arnold, Boboli, Brownberry , Entenmann's, Freihofer, and Thomas --do not use peanuts, but several of those brands do use tree nuts.

Because of the potential of cross-contamination with peanuts and tree nuts at some plants, and the possibility of manufacturing changes and production rearrangement, the decision was made to change the allergen statement for all George Weston products to state that there are peanuts and tree nuts present in the manufacturing facilities. This should prevent confusion--such as my recent bewilderment about the allergen statement change for Thomas'--when manufacturing changes and rearrangement occurs in the future. It sounds like a prudent policy to me, and I appreciate the company erring on the side of caution.

Ms. Hartley emphasized the company's awareness of food allergies and the risks of cross-contamination. She explained that when production of one product is complete, there is a full clean-out of the line; in fact, this cleaning is so thorough it takes hours. In addition, she stressed that they take "every possible reasonable precaution" to prevent cross-contamination. If our allergist hadn't recently instructed us to avoid all products that "may contain" peanuts and tree nuts, I certainly would have felt comfortable feeding Thomas' to my son. I appreciate the personal and thorough answer from George Weston Bakeries. It was informative and helpful. Now we know.


Vivian Mahoney said...

Thanks for getting this information! I get so frustrated and sometimes overwhelmed trying to get the straight scoop on manufactured foods. And you make it much easier.

Thank you and have a great year!

Anonymous said...

Do you know when they plan to put the "allergen statement" on their products? I've checked them out at the grocery store and to date have found no statements....

Unknown said...

Thanks Vivian and Anonymous for your comments. I suspect the new "allergen statement" will never be in print for consumers to see, much like the earlier Thomas' statement.

Wouldn't it be nice if FDA began to require the advisory allergen statements on packages or at least on websites? That would be great...especially for those moments when you want to open a package of food outside of business hours!

Today's the last day for our comments to FDA on advisory labeling...