Everybody loves to criticize big food companies, but most people need what they make!
So, why should someone with life threatening allergies to peanuts miss out on the
often-needed convenience of a protein bar or box of crackers when peanuts are NOT a
listed ingredient. Being a mother in a family with food allergies, asthma and
one child with a severe food allergy, our family is all too aware of the challenges of buying safe
and healthy foods that are not potentially life-threatening.
This phrase no doubt evolved in the legal departments of big food companies for
protection against lawsuits in the case of accidental exposure to allergenic ingredients.
But as an expert in food sensitivities and an advocate for the food sensitive population,
I can assure you that these companies are actually leaving money on the table with this
obtuse labeling system.
When you have life threatening food allergies and you see “may contain traces of..
(”insert allergens here”), you immediately walk away. Full stop. It’s a matter of life or
death. Not to mention the frustration and resentment of not having an item available
for these families, were it not for the “may contain…. ” warning.
The excluded population widens when we look at the schools, community centers,
sports teams and programs that will exclude these products with the “may contain food
allergen warnings”. They are often in positions of power when it comes to group
buying – so it’s not just the individual grocery budget that is in play – it’s educational
institutions, sports teams, Halloween and holiday treat buyers and on and on….
Avoidance of the foods with the “may contain” alert continues past childhood into young
adults and beyond. My children and other allergy sensitive friends know which foods have
these warnings and are reassured with foods that have a “no peanut”, “no dairy”, “no
nuts” and “no gluten” labeling.
Frozen food choices are especially challenging:
For example, frozen chicken breast is rife with unknown ingredients like “sodium erythorbate”and “potassium sorbate” followed by 7 cautions – “may contain: eggs, fish, crustaceans, shellfish, soy, wheat and mustard.
Parents are a powerful and connected set of buyers and with the stats climbing by
50%* over the past 15 years for child food allergy sufferers, food companies would be
unwise to ignore this reality.
Look at the gluten-free industry in Canada – it increased by over a five year period to a
$458.9 million dollar industry in 2012**. Consumers are willing to pay more to feel
Companies who are willing to reassure consumers by having separate processing areas
or replacing serious allergy ingredients with others that are healthy stand to profit
hugely in the age of the informed consumer.
So, here’s the plea to the food companies:
Step away from the “may contain” warning and be explicit. Either the product contains
the ingredients or it doesn’t. Keep people safe with separate facilities, not legal
Replace the top 8 allergy-causing ingredients: peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, eggs,fish, shellfish,
soy and wheat with other healthful ingredients instead of cheap fillers. People are willing to pay a
premium for the convenience food that’s also healthy.A Global Health and Wellness Survey 2015
(over 30,000 respondents) showed 88% are willing to pay more for healthy food***.
Eliminate labeling jargon with easy-to-understand ingredients so that people really
know what they are eating and can easily avoid anything that makes them sick.
Ultimately we are all on the same team. Companies want to make money. Consumers
want quality at a price they can justify and afford. After all, it’s hard to put a
price on health. And when eating a bag of crackers becomes a life or death proposition,
no one should ever have to choose “maybe” over safe!
*Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) 2015 **Food Navigator-USA.com Sept.2013 ***Forbes Business Feb.2015