This week I’ve come across an alarming number of products advertised to be “top 8 free” or “nut-free” when they actually aren’t. I’m writing this post to spread awareness about this common problem for those with food allergies, and it is something I want to begin taking action to rectify for the safety of others. For many like myself, it is a matter of life or death, and with food allergies growing at record rates, the food labeling laws need serious revamping to protect lives. It shouldn’t be this difficult to definitively find out what you’re consuming.
Even if I did not have a food allergy to worry about, this would remain a passionate concern of mine. I try my best to pay attention to what I’m putting in my body. I try to eat organic produce instead of heavily sprayed fruits and vegetables with chemical pesticides, I check labeling to avoid extremely processed foods with a long list of ingredients I do not recognize, I avoid aspartame, and so on. I’m not saying people need to eat the same way I do, but I do think most people would agree they want to know at least what ingredients are inside their food, so they can then decide if they want to eat it and make that choice for themselves.
As I’ve mentioned time and time again, right now the labeling laws are not holding corporations strictly to any labeling practices besides if it actually contains a top 8 allergen, and even in that instance, recalls do happen (click here to read my post on recalls). I consider myself extremely cautious of labeling, but even I was fooled recently by 3 separate products!
With the lack of regulation in the U.S. on labeling laws, often companies will claim things without knowing the severe implications of their statements. I’ve learned this even goes for small logos like this one shown here:
This is not specific to the brand ‘Everyday Favorites’, this is just an example of the logo which you’d think consumers would be able to fully trust. Sadly that is not the case.
Here are the 3 “nut-free” products I recently investigated:
The yogurt brand Ripple I purchased at Kroger while looking for dairy-free yogurt alternatives, even though I’m plenty happy with ‘So Delicious Dairy Free’ yogurt (safe for peanut allergies, not tree nut), I was excited to see “nut-free” on the shelf and wanted to give it a try.
I took a bite of this before immediately realizing it tasted gross and chalky, which led me to check the ingredients again. I then noticed it was made in a facility with others nuts, despite it saying “nut-free” on the front.
Here are photos I’ve included for those with tree-nut allergies:
I inquired with the company and learned it was not made in a facility with peanuts, only some tree-nuts, but still, it is wrong for them to be able to label it “nut-free” and then state “Made in a facility that contains nuts”. I typically am more cautious than this, so this proves that everyone makes mistakes and can overlook product labels.
The second product I was mislead by was one at Aldi by the brand LiveGFree. This was my first trip into Aldi’s in many years, and I initially looked at the product because I read it as “Live6Free” and thought it meant free of 6 allergens, but it claimed “nut-free” on the box so I thought it was a great find. They had some cake mixes and baked chewy bars that I was interested in, mainly because they looked identical to the ‘Enjoy Life’ brand (which I love), one even with the same baked chewy bar flavor name ‘Cocoa Loco’, but for a fraction of the cost. Both my husband and I started placing them in the cart since they say “nut-free” but suddenly as I reached for a box I saw there were ‘PB&J Bites” by the same brand sitting on the same shelf.
I did not purchase this, and have since contacted this brand to see if they share equipment or facility with peanuts and not heard back yet, but I have a hunch that they do. Since the company goal is Gluten-free, I’ve found many companies like to slap a “nut-free” label on things that actually just do not actually CONTAIN nuts as an intended ingredient, but may be cross-contaminated. None of the LiveGFree products I saw had ‘may contain’ statements or facility statement.
Below are the PB&J bites, which did not say “nut-free” on them, as the first ingredient was peanuts. The photo on the right is an example of what their boxes looked like on items that did not contain nuts in the ingredients label. but they didn’t specify if they ‘may contain’ or were in a shared facility/shared equipment.
*I will update on this brand once I hear back
This one I discovered a while back but wanted to include in this post. Plant by V is the Vitamin Shoppe Brand protein powder, it is labeled “nut-free” and even goes as far on their website and labels to say it’s “free of common food allergies”, which is pretty specific if you ask me.
I learned the product is tested for allergens, but they did not know if the product was made in a facility with peanuts, and said to find out they would have to reach out and inquire. They never got back in touch with me after I asked to hear what they find out.
This isn’t the absolute worst answer, I will give them that, but it would be nice if they knew, since they’re ensuring the allergy-community that it’s free of common food allergies. Even though they test for it, I still like to know if it’s present in the facility. It ups the chances of a recall, and I would assume if a product says “free of common allergens” that they know this 110%. Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream tests their products, but I don’t feel it’s worth the risk since peanut products are on shared equipment.
With this Vitamin Shoppe protein powder, I decided to not chance it. We use Purely Inspired Protein Powder now and get it at Kroger, and it is clearly labeled with the food allergens in the facility, and on shared equipment instead which is my preference of labeling. Reminder: I only have a peanut allergy, so this product is made on shared equipment as tree nuts.
I want to know what is present in the product, and what may be present, due to shared facility and equipment production and packing lines.
I always urge those in the allergen community to eat what you’ve researched and only what you feel comfortable with. Everyone has different opinions and tolerances, and so it’s important to do your own research and I like to bring it to companies attention when they are mislabeling and misleading their customer base.
When I find products that are made in a peanut-free facility, I urge them to put this on their FAQ page so people know, and then of course to update it once there are any changes. It should not be a choice for the company, it should be a requirement. For my family, it is a constant battle of trying to determine what we trust and what we don’t.
I hope this post has made you skeptical of labeling, so you eat safely and can take control of what you are putting in your body, especially if it may be deadly for you, a friend, or family member. I’ll be writing again soon with some templates that I send to companies, as well as research I find on labeling laws.