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