This month, I want to share an experience with you, and hopefully it helps someone out there when finding something safe to eat. Some time ago, we were trying to figure out why a particular reaction was happening. Mind you, I hadn’t been on my A game. You see, there was a time where I wouldn’t purchase anything in the store without calling the company first to find out all about their practices. I mainly did this for myself because of my severe reactions. I had reached a point where truthfully, I stopped caring when it came to my food. I was reacting to everything, no matter what the company said, and that’s when we learned just how incredibly complex my situation was.
On the other hand, I had become very accustomed to reading labels and shopping for the needs of the kids. But I missed one tiny little detail, and I promised myself it would never happen again. The lesson that I learned was a simple, yet critical one – read the labels, and still make the call.
Food companies aren’t mandated in certain parts of the labeling, mainly, the shared facility clause you see on some packages. Companies that cater to people with allergies have a tendency to disclose this on the packaging, and it is becoming a lot more common to see on labels. Other companies don’t disclose as much. You also have to know that some companies are so large that they have several plants, each handling something different, which is why you may be able to eat some f their products, but not all of them.
So here’s our case study: Nature’s Path. I LOOOOOOVE this brand, and I always will, no matter what. We have been buying their products for over five years without a problem. I see their box, and boom, instant trust. I didn’t read the labels anymore because I knew it was safe. I did however notice that the pictures on the boxes were changing, and there were new flavors in town, and the size of the bar had changed. But it was still Nature’s Path, so it must be safe, right? Wrong. I got really excited one day because the new flavors were on sale, and I just knew the kids would want to try them. Well, Kid Two was more than excited, until he had an allergic reaction. What?! How could that be? It’s Nature’s Path. They’re safe. No, they were safe. It was a new day, and they were no longer safe for him. Sure enough, I looked at the label, and it contained dairy. I spent two days apologizing to Kid Two. I felt like a scumbag failure. Since then, I’ve read all the labels, eve on the safe brands. It’s also why he doesn’t have many snacks anymore. We had taken a stricter stance on the shared facility issue because of his phantom reactions. The worse part was, it wasn’t just his favorite snack bars, but we had to eliminate his favorite oatmeal too. It was rather heartbreaking.
Sadly, this isn’t the only time that this happened to me. I once got so caught up and busy that I missed a shared facility line on something that I was working on, and someone had a mild reaction. They didn’t fault me for it, but the guilt was almost too much to bear. To know that I had missed a detail that could hurt another person was just too much.
So what do we do? We learn. We read. We never take anything for granted.
If you find something that’s safe for you (or your child) and you want them to enjoy it for a good long while, stock up. Trial the product, know the shelf-life, and keep a lot of extras on hand. A lot of grocery stores also offer case discounts. If you’re like us however, and you’re at the end of the line, simply learn how to make it yourself. Study the labels and the ratios, and go from there. Almost any snack that can be purchased in stores can be made at home relatively easily, and without any preservatives.
When you’re consider a new product, here’s how you can investigate: start by calling the manufacturer, and ask if the product is made in a shared facility or on shared equipment with your allergen. Some places has really good protocols, even if it’s a shared facility. However, I listen very carefully to the things they describe, and I have to make a judgement call. I am rather willing to purchase something that’s made in a shared facility IF it’s made on dedicated equipment, away from allergens, and there’s protocols in place. You will have to judge for yourself if you’re willing to purchase those types of products.
Next, ask them to tell you if each ingredient in the final product is made in a shared facility or on shared equipment.
Let’s look at another case study: Follow Your Heart Vegan Egg Replacer. I thought we were fans of the product, until I did my due diligence and learned a lot. First, I wasn’t pleased that they had their “own standards” that they looked for in allergy testing. That could mean anything at all… and they weren’t telling me what those standards are. The rep assured me that the facility was good, etc. Then I asked for the info on the sources… several ingredients were made on SHARED equipment with some of the top 8 allergens… yet this was an allergy free product? No thank you. I simply wasn’t OK with how they tried to pass everything off as being above board, annnd, they were the keepers of the test.
Our final case study: Kirkland Organic Maple Syrup. This is one of the more interesting things I have to share. Costco is pretty good about having their allergen statements. You have to call customer service, and they transfer you to someone… that person looks up each item number you give them on a database, and can see the allergen declarations. Get this. I was told that the Organic Maple Syrup was made on shared equipment with dairy. We immediately stopped using the product (with a heavy heart because that price…) So I was calling one of our favorite places to find out about syrup and safety. As we got to talking, he shared that their company creates the Kirkland line, and there was no dairy in that facility. At that point, I was filled with distrust for the whole system. One of them was wrong, but I didn’t know who. Needless to say, we still don’t use the Kirkland Organic Maple Syrup, and yes, I miss the price.
If you leave with nothing else, take this with you – it’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it. You’ll make dozens of phone calls trying to get information, and send a ton of emails too I’m sure. Yet in the end, you’ll serve food with a lot less anxiety because you’ll know down to each small ingredient how safe the product is for you and your family. Also, if a company isn’t willing to tell you, don’t waste your time on them, unless you know it’s worth the risk.