Warning to the Food Allergic: Yes, Ingredients and Process Do Change


Clabber Girl Baking Powder - may contain milkOver the years I have received countless emails from people who are confused by the “may contain labels” and are frustrated because one of their favorite products now has milk listed on the ingredient statement. This week, I was further reminded of this issue, and thought it important enough to address. Kids with Food Allergies sent out “ingredient change” alerts, with some surprising products on it:

1) The Silk Soymilk labels now state, “May contain almonds or coconut,” because the soymilk may be manufactured on equipment that is used by products that contain almond or coconut. Not all containers have this warning yet. ~ A bit of a shocker I’m sure to all of the nut-, dairy-, and egg-allergy moms out there (a common trio of allergies for kids).

2) Clabber Girl Baking Powder (22 ounce container only) labels now state, “Manufactured on equipment that also processes wheat, soy, milk and egg.” The front of the can states they are still producing in a peanut-free facility. Several of the retail sizes including 4 oz, 8.1 oz, and 10 oz cans, are still produced on dedicated manufacturing lines and are gluten free products (as of January 2011) ~ What? Milk traces in baking powder? The line is probably used for items that process other “powdered” goods that include milk powder (also wheat flour, egg white powder, etc.). * See Note Below for Update

Life would be so much easier for us all if there was this big list of “these products are safe for you” and nothing ever changed. But in the real world, life unfortunately isn’t that simple. Why does it have to be so difficult?

For starters, food manufacturers are worried first and foremost about their bottom line. Profit numbers precede food allergy concerns. So when they find a cheaper source for a particular ingredient, a more efficient manufacturing process, or simply a different manufacturing facility, things change. And this happens more often than you might imagine. In fact, a company can flip flop suppliers of an ingredient from week to week … one made on shared equipment with dairy, one not.

Second, food allergen labeling is still a largely voluntary process. Even though FALCPA went into place several years ago, there really isn’t a “fact checking” system in place to ensure accuracy. It is up to the company to double check their own work, which is why there has been such an increase in “allergen alerts” over the years. Also, the “may contain …” or “produced in …” labels are completely voluntary. It is quite possible that Clabber Girl Baking Powder was always manufactured on shared equipment, but the company may have just opted to add that labeling due to some consumer issues.

So what’s a food concerned person to do? Take control and stay educated. Even if you have trusted a product for years, continue to read the label each time you purchase it … or even better, before you purchase it. If you are dealing with a severe food allergy or intolerance and/or are concerned about even trace amounts of dairy (or other food allergen), stay on top of the processes also. Contact the companies directly and find out those companies that take a special interest in food allergy concerns and who rarely change their ingredients or processes. If a company isn’t willing to give you specific information, then they probably aren’t reliable.

Other articles from Go Dairy Free that you may find helpful:

* We received an update from a representative with Clabber Girl in February, 2011: “While most of our baking powder products have been, and continue to be produced on a dedicated line, our 22 oz. baking powder was produced on a line that also produces cookie and baking mixes that we manufacture for our fundraising division.  We will be transitioning this to a dedicated line, and when the transition is complete, this disclaimer will come off of the label.”

About Author

Alisa is the founder of GoDairyFree.org, Food Editor for Allergic Living magazine, and author of the best-selling dairy-free book, Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living, and the new cookbook, Eat Dairy Free: Your Essential Cookbook for Everyday Meals, Snacks, and Sweets. Alisa is also a professional recipe creator and product ambassador for the natural food industry.

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