I’ve come across an alarming number of products advertised to be “top 8 free” or “nut-free” when the products are actually not what I would consider to be those claims. I’m writing this post to spread awareness about this common problem for those with food allergies, and it is something I am passionate about taking action to rectify, for the safety of myself and for the lives of others.
For many like myself, food labels are a matter of life or death, and with food allergies growing at record rates, the food labeling laws in the U.S. and in general need serious revamping to protect lives. It shouldn’t be this difficult and time consuming to definitively find out what you’re consuming or giving to others to consume.
I try my best to pay attention to what I’m putting in my body, outside of my food allergy, as well. I aim to eat organic produce when possible 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, so on. I’m not saying people need to eat the same way I do, by any means, but I do think most people would agree they want to know at least what ingredients are inside their food (maybe besides the occasional decadent dessert, sometimes I do not want to know the amount of sugar or butter in something I just want to enjoy it!).
As I’ve mentioned time and time again, right now the U.S. FDA labeling laws are not holding corporations strictly to any labeling practices besides if it purposefully contains a top 8 major food allergen, so if it contains it unintentionally due to lack of cleaning between food products on the same production line, that doesn’t warrant any type of disclosure even if there is cross-contact contamination. I consider myself extremely cautious of labeling, but even I was fooled recently by 4 separate food products making large allergy-related claims, so I wanted to share those here to give examples of what to be on the lookout for.
Allergy-Related Claims and Statements
With the lack of regulation on labeling laws, often companies can legally make false or misleading claims without ANY implications of their statements. I’ve learned this even goes for small logos like this “made in a peanut-free facility” logo:
This is not specific to the above 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, as you can read in this Snack Safely article which explains there here is no regulation around these labels, so they can be slapped on any product without any consequence.
4 “nut-free” Product Examples
The yogurt brand Ripple I purchased at Kroger while looking for dairy-free yogurt alternatives. Even though I’m plenty happy with the brand ‘So Delicious Dairy Free’ yogurt products (So Delicious yogurt last I checked is safe for peanut allergies, but not tree nut allergies according to the label), I was excited to see “nut-free” on the shelf at the grocery and wanted to give it a try.
I checked the label, read “nut-free”, I checked the ingredient list to make sure my allergen peanuts wasn’t listed and took a bite. To be honest, it tasted gross and chalky, which led me to check the ingredients again, wondering what was in it. That is when noticed it was made in a facility with others nuts (!!!), despite it saying “nut-free” on the front. Here are photos I took of the labeling:
It was definitely something I should’ve noticed not matching up, but I felt misguided since it said “nut-free” and at the time, I didn’t know a claim could be made like this if it wasn’t from an allergen-free certified facility. I inquired with the company and learned it was not made in a facility with peanuts, only some tree-nuts, but still, it is hypocritical for them to be able to label it “nut-free” and then state “made in a facility that contains nuts”. Still, I believe I typically am more cautious than this, but this proves that everyone makes mistakes and can overlook product labels, especially misleading ones like this.
Steve’s Ice Cream
The image used to represent this blog post is of Steve’s Ice Cream misleading label. You’ll see it states “nut-free” and then “manufactured in a facility the also processes peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, and dairy based ingredients” on the same product. Doesn’t sound nut-free to me, then! Since I avoid eating products made in the same facility as my allergen, because I’m reactive to trace amounts, and my allergy is deadly, I was once again surprised this type of hypocritical labeling is allowed.
The second product I was mislead by was one at Aldi by the brand: LiveGFree. I initially looked at the product because I read it as “Live6Free” and thought it meant free of 6 allergens, since 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 Food brand (which I love, but have to admit, is expensive), 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 our grocery cart, but as I reached for a second box I saw there were ‘PB&J Bites” by the same brand sitting on the same shelf. This made me wary… I wondered if the products were made in separate facilities or in the same facility.
I did not purchase this brand that day, we put the boxes back, and I decided to take photos and send them an email in the meantime, because I didn’t see an FAQ on their site that explained the allergen situation in full. You can read their vague statement on the Aldi FAQs page, but really it doesn’t tell you anything since they say that they don’t label for ‘may contain’ or disclosing what allergens are in the facility, because they’re complying with the FDA, which doesn’t require them to be transparent about that. I asked the brand over email if they use peanuts in the facility of all items, and never heard back. Since the company goal is primarily to be 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 any ‘may contain’ statements or ‘made in a facility with _____” statement.
Below are the PB&J bites, which luckily did not say “nut-free” on them, as the first ingredient was peanuts. The photo on the right is an example of what their product 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 with nuts, etc. I inquired a second time, and never heard back from the brand on clarification around their “nut-free” label, therefore, I wouldn’t trust it.
Plant by V is the Vitamin Shoppe Brand of protein powder. As of this post, 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 see this A LOT on products when shopping and they are only meaning it isn’t present in the “ingredients list” not anything more than that, so it could be on shared equipment and in the same facility:
I emailed them about this, and 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 internally. 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” on their label. Even though they test for it, I still would like to know if it’s present in the facility, and especially if it’s on shared equipment. I would assume if a product can say it is “free of common allergens” that they know this 5000%, but that simply isn’t true. For example, Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream tests their products for trace amounts, but I don’t feel it’s worth the risk since peanut products are on shared equipment as all their products. I don’t personally want to take that risk, since it’s a life-threatening one.
So as you can assume, with this Vitamin Shoppe protein powder, I decided to not chance it. We use Purely Inspired Protein Powder now and I buy it at Kroger. It is clearly labeled with the food allergens in the facility, and states what is on shared equipment, which is great labeling! Reminder: I am peanut allergic only, so this product is made on shared equipment as tree nuts, and also labels can change and so can the facility, so please check for yourself on all products before consuming.
I don’t think it is too much to need to know what is present in the product intentionally, and what may be present unintentionally, due to shared facility and equipment production and packing lines/cross-contamination. I hope it becomes common where companies are required to disclose this information to consumers. 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, food allergies, and tolerances, and so it’s important to do your own research.
I like to bring it to companies attention when they are mislabeling and misleading their customer base, so I always email them so it’s in writing and hope it can be forwarded along in the company easier this way. Even when I find safe products that are made in a peanut-free facility, if they don’t list this on their site in an FAQs section or have it listed on the label the allergens in the facility, I ask them to so people know! For my family it is a constant guessing game trying to determine what we trust and what we don’t, and consistent and transparent labeling required by the FDA NEEDS to happen.
Write the FDA To Require ‘May Contain’
I hope this post has made you skeptical of food labels, because there’s a lot out there to be on the lookout for with such limited regulations. I hope you feel empowered to write the FDA, food companies, and your state representatives about this to help those in your life with food allergies. We all deserve to eat safely and know what we are putting in our body, especially if it may be deadly to you, a friend, or family member.
This will eventually get outdated, but right now as I’m updating this post in 2021, we’re experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic and the FDA has relaxed their labeling laws even more, putting people with food allergies in danger. This Snack Safely article covers the details.
My Food Allergy Email Template
This is my short & sweet template I use to inquire with a company via email, “Hello, I have a severe peanut allergy, do you use peanut ingredients in your facility?”
If you want to give more info, you can add on, “I avoid products made in the same facility with peanut ingredients (peanut oil, flour, peanuts, etc). Thank you.”