Why is “May Contain” food labeling voluntary?

Why is “May Contain” food labeling voluntary?

In 2006, “top eight” allergen labeling became mandated by the United States Food and Drug Administration in all packaged foods manufactured and marketed in the US.  The top eight food allergens are milk, egg, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts and soybeans.  At that time it became easier for consumers to identify what packaged foods contained their allergens.

The ingredients must be listed on the packaging and also identified at the end of the ingredient list as a “Contains” statement, i.e. “Contains: Milk, Egg.”

Many packages also include a “May Contain” statement.  This statement is placed on the package to alert consumers that the product may contain food allergens by cross contamination, though it may not be an ingredient in the product.  This cross contamination occurs when production lines and equipment are shared with other products made at the same facility.  They may produce a product such as a cookie that does not contain peanuts in it’s ingredients, but earlier have produced a peanut butter cracker on the same equipment, thereby creating cross contamination.

photography of man on kitchen room
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The utterly terrifying aspect of “May Contain” statements is that they are completely VOLUNTARY.   While I am thankful to the companies that include these alerts, I’m frightened by the products of companies that do not include these cautionary statements.  It only takes one tiny peanut protein to incite anaphylaxis in my son.  A word of caution to those with food allergies (and the parents of children with food allergies): call the company that produces the products to ensure there is no chance of cross contamination if they do not label with “may contain” statements.

While the US has come a long way in product labeling, we still have more work to do in full disclosure regarding packaged food products.  My prayer is that “May Contain” labeling becomes mandatory very soon.  Be aware and be safe.

The Holidays: Be Merry & Safe

The Holidays: Be Merry & Safe

Holidays can take a food allergy sufferer and their family to a whole new level of anxiety.  A time that is meant to be joyous and festive is wrapped in fear, trepidation and discomfort for food allergy families.  For us, food centered gatherings are no time to relax and enjoy the company of friends and loved ones.  Our focus must always be on safety, protection and prevention.  Children, teenagers and adults lose their lives at gatherings such as these, even when they do absolutely everything right.  There are too many moving parts to a family food-centered gathering, too many variables, too many figurative and actual hands in the pot, too much for us to monitor and ensure safety.

What defines many people’s ideas of the perfect holiday may not center around food such as pecan pie, peanut butter cookies, pumpkin pie with whipped topping, candied pecans, cheese balls rolled in nuts, and green beans with sliced & roasted almonds, but it is certainly a major part of their idea of the perfect holiday.  We are still fighting to show that one child’s favorite lunch food, a PB&J sandwich, is not worth losing the life of another child.  Holidays are a whole new ballgame.

If I could embody food allergy sufferers and their families with one trait, it would be perseverance.  We keep going, keep advocating, keep protecting, and yes, even keep loving despite all the hurtful, harmful and hateful opposition.  Despite all the negative comments, the abandoned friendships, the shunning of family members that just don’t get it, we keep going.  We persevere.

Keep in mind at this years’ family gatherings that we don’t want to be a pain or offensive by asking millions of questions about food prep, ingredients, labels, what you ate before you came and other weird-seeming questions to non-food allergy folks.  We want to be protected.  We want to leave the party in the same car we arrived in, not an ambulance.

For some families, possible exposure is too big a risk to take, especially when the allergy is severe.  Please know that we want more than anything to be there.  We sacrifice our desires & preferences to keep our children, or ourselves, safe.  We ask for no judgement on this decision.  I promise it is a painful decision for us to make.

Be careful, my dear food allergy friends.  It’s a minefield out there.  My prayer for you is discernment on what is a safe situation and what is not safe, and of course to always be safe.

My prayer for all non-food allergy friends & families is for understanding, respect and love towards food allergy sufferers.  That’s the best holiday gift you could ever give us.

brown pinecone on white rectangular board
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