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.

24 January 2012

Operator...can you add a voluntary "may contain" statement?

Well over a week ago, my younger son expressed an interest in trying the frozen appetizers made by TGIF that are at the grocery store in the frozen foods section. So, I told him we will write and see if they're safe. I went online, googled TGIF frozen, and found they are made by Heinz. I wrote my usual message explaining that he cannot eat foods manufactured in an environment where peanuts and tree nuts are present due to life threatening allergies. What I needed from Heinz is information about possible cross-contamination, but below is the response I received:

January 19, 2012
Dear Jennifer,

Because we understand how difficult it is for consumers with food allergies to find 'safe' processed foods, we clearly list the FDA Top 8 Major Allergens on our ingredient panels if they are included in our products.

The FDA specifies the Top 8 Major Allergens are as follows:  Soy; Wheat; Peanuts; Eggs; Dairy; Tree Nuts; Shellfish & Crustaceans; and Fish.

Currently, these ingredients are listed specifically within our ingredient statements.  They are also called out in bold print underneath the ingredient statement.  Older packaging will only reflect these allergens within the ingredient statement itself (rather than reiterating the information in bold print).

Because recipes are not patentable, the terms 'natural flavorings' and 'spices' refers to dried spices which are not disclosed on the label for proprietary reasons.  Unfortunately, if you are allergic to an ingredient other than those specifically declared, we are not able to disclose whether your ingredient is being used in the recipe, and therefore suggest that you avoid using this product.

However, if you would like to have your physician fax us a request on their letterhead with a contact phone number detailing the specific ingredient(s) in question.  They can fax that request to: (412) 237-5291.

Thank you for your interest in Heinz products.

Heinz Consumer Resource Center

While I appreciate the answer from Heinz, that's obviously not an answer to my question. That's a form answer to an ingredients question. I'm disappointed that I have to write to Heinz again. After all, doesn't it make good business sense to attempt to answer a consumer question about cross-contamination?  If it turns out a food is safe for our family, chances are we'll buy it again. We could become regular customers, maybe even tell our friends about it. The way I see it, food manufacturers have nothing to lose by answering questions about cross-contamination. I wish those voluntary "may contain" statements were mandatory. That would really help us determine which foods might be safe options. When critical information like that is unavailable, my approach has to be "when it doubt, leave it out." In the meantime...hello Heinz? We really want to try your food if it's safe for us, so how 'bout adding a voluntary "may contain" statement? Thanks!


AllergyMentor said...

I have a problem supporting Heinz as a company, because of their lack of cooperativeness with the food allergy community. In today's day of technology, if someone wants to know their secret ingredients in order to replicate the recipe, there are labs available to reveal them. I don't care about their recipe, I care about keeping people with food allergies safe. If you can not tell me with a yes or no if your product contains garlic (in order to prevent an allergic reaction) then you do not truly want my business. I'm happy to take it elsewhere. Yes, I know several allergic families that have had their ingredient requests refused.
Their non-answer to you seems to indicate that they do not empower their employees to provide answers that are not pre-scripted, and also further conveys their lack of interest in serving the food allergy community. Rant over. Sorry about that.

Unknown said...

No apology necessary! I appreciate your comment. I may come to the same conclusion. Heinz is such a big company. I know they can do better. I am hoping they will!