The bane of “may contain”: are Oreo a nut-free snack?

By on August 22, 2013
Nut Free Biscuits & Cookies

A brief history of our family’s relationship with “may contain” labels:

  • April 2012. Discover son’s peanut allergy when he has a severe anaphylactic reaction to a peanut butter cookie. We’re told to avoid all nuts. Our doctors advise us (1) to check the ingredients list on food labels for an absence of nuts and (2) that we can disregard “may contain traces of nuts” wording. We bear this in mind, but, over the coming months, are often deterred by “may contain” labels (particularly strongly phrased warnings, such as“Not suitable for nut allergy sufferers”).
  • January 2013. Start blogging about nut allergies. Join Twitter. Quickly realise that ignoring “may contain” labels is far from the universal approach. Have a nervous moment. Vow to avoid foods with a “may contain nuts” label from now onwards.
  • March 2013. Research the law on “may contain” labels for the blog post Deciphering UK food allergen labelling law. Discover that manufacturers are not required to include “may contain” wording and its use (and the use of allergen warning boxes) is totally voluntary. Realise that if a product label does not include any allergen warnings, this is no guarantee that a product is free of nut traces. The manufacturer may have simply decided not to use “may contain” wording. Have another nervous moment.

So, since March 2013, we have:

  • Avoided any food labelled “may contain nuts” (or similar advisory wording).
  • Viewed products with no “may contain” wording with slight suspicion, and made a judgment call based on the manufacturer, they type of food and if my son has eaten that product safely before.
  • Tended to feel more confident if something says, for example, only “May contain milk”. My logic being that, if the manufacturer thought there was a chance of nut traces, they wouldn’t hesitate to put “May contain milk and nuts”.

I’ve now realised that logic might be flawed.

Over the last couple of weeks I have been compiling a list of nut free foods, with links to the manufacturers’ nut allergy information. My son is a big fan of “black biscuits” (Oreo cookies to you and me). The Oreo packet label states:

oreos

So, when researching nut free foods, I was surprised to discover that (as at 22 August 2013) the Oreo UK website states:

Do Oreos Contain Nuts?

I will be contacting Oreo to clarify which is correct: the packet or the website [see Update below].

Given “may contain” labelling is voluntary, if a product is at risk of cross-contamination with (for example) milk, soya and nuts during the manufacturing process, is it open to the manufacturer to pick and choose its “may contains” and just label the product “may contain milk and soya”? Or does including a label which says “may contain milk and soya” imply that the product is free from nut traces? In that instance, would leaving out “and nuts” be labelling food “in a way which is likely to mislead as to its nature, substance or quality” (which would contravene section 15 of the Food Safety Act 1990)?

What do you think? If a manufacturer does choose to include “may contain” wording, can it be selective as to the allergens it mentions or should it then provide a full list?

Update (23 August 2013): Oreo’s response

Good news for nut allergic Oreo fans! I contacted Oreo about the contradictory information. I’m grateful to them for coming back to me extremely quickly to confirm that the FAQs on their website are wrong and will be changed. They have advised me that Oreo does not contain nuts or any traces of nuts.

Update (28 August 2013): Oreo website updated

As at 28 August 2013, the Oreo UK website  now states:

oreos_nut_free

About Louise @ NutMums

City solicitor turned full time mum and food allergy blogger. Writes and tweets (@nutmums) about all things peanut and nut allergy, from a parent's perspective.

7 Comments

  1. Laura Pyper

    August 22, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    It seems to be getting worse rather than better :/ food should state if there are nuts or traces !

    • Louise

      August 23, 2013 at 11:22 am

      Agree – everything should be clear just from looking at the packet!

  2. Natalie

    August 22, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    I’ve done the same in the past. That is, assumed that if label says ‘may contain’ another allergen but nuts aren’t mentioned at all then it must be ok. It’s a minefield!

    • Louise

      August 23, 2013 at 11:23 am

      Thanks Natalie – reassuring to hear that’s what others have done too!

  3. May

    August 27, 2013 at 9:32 am

    Experience has taught me not to trust manufacturers when they say “factory no nuts, recipe no nuts, may contain nuts” First I thought that was absurd, if they do not handle nuts in their factory , then I realised, the ingredients they use can be cross contaminated. Therefore with anaphylaxis to sesame and nuts, it is not worth taking a chance and the dilemma is that there is only a handful of products in England that can safely declare no nuts.
    For me this does not solve the problem, as with my daughter’s multiple food allergies, she needs to avoid all kinds of nuts (peanuts, tree nuts and almonds), sesame, soya, eggs, dairy, wheat and coconut – I found it impossible to find anything readily available that is suitable for her and over 15 years I have been doing everything from scratch which inspired me to start my very own company for the production of healthier food options that is free from all major allergens and suitable for all people with allergies, intolerances or not. I am still in the setting up process so watch this space.

    • Louise

      August 27, 2013 at 9:53 am

      Thanks for your comment, May. That sounds fantastic about your new food production company – look forward to hearing more details when you are set up!

  4. May

    August 27, 2013 at 10:42 am

    Just had another thought.We experienced this in the past with a bar of chocolate that was free from nuts, dairy, and soya, my daughter tried once and was ok then another time after few months and she had a reaction. We later found out that the manufacturers changed their suppliers of raw ingredients. Manufacturers do change suppliers often and unless they are dedicated allergy free, they will not bother with cross contamination, hence “may contain ….” so be careful, we had few not so good experiences over the years.
    If you really desperate to try something new, try it at home, with the treatments ready to hand, just in case and try very little and wait, then a little bit more and wait, repeat until satisfied. Anaphylaxis is not a joke.

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