Given it seemed like every Tesco own brand product in our food cupboard carried the warning “Ingredients: Cannot guarantee nut free” (and in the early days I didn’t know whether this meant the food was out of bounds for my son, D), I decided to use Ocado for my first post diagnosis online supermarket shop.
I was quite heartened at first, as the Ocado site allows you to tick “nut free”, which then brings up a filtered list of products. This introduced us to products from, for example, Doves Farm and Peter Rabbit Organics. The Ocado site also allows you to click onto a detailed product description, where you can find allergen information and an ingredients list for each product. Despite this, that first shop took what felt like hours.
I think the single most time consuming task was finding soya free bread. Eventually, I found a forum where someone had recommended Waitrose’s stoneground wholemeal bread.
How much more useful would it be though, if you could simply search for “soya free bread”, or “nut free biscuits”?
If you search “soya free bread” on the Ocado site, as at the date of writing (12 January 2013), three products show up: Doves Farm Vitamin C and two bread mixes from Glebe Farm. The stoneground wholemeal bread does not come up in the search results.
If you search for “nut free biscuits”, then, yes, 27 products appear. However, there are many more that don’t make the results list. Waitrose own brand Rich Tea, for example. Why is this?
I am going to contact Ocado to query this. However, supermarkets, if you are reading, the ability to search for “nut free XXX” and bring up a full list of results would be a godsend. Better still, how about a box on your profile where you tick “nut free products” and then, when you search for a particular type of food, only nut free examples appear?
Suffice to say that I was very relieved when that first order was at last submitted. I reassured myself that it would be quicker in future (although even if I ordered the same products week in week out, I would still need to check the ingredients when the food arrived, in case the recipe had changed).
So, when the shopping arrived, my anxiety levels shot through the roof when reading “UK Bakery: uses nuts” on the back of a pack of lemon zest cookies. I think I just felt incredibly frustrated. I’d done my best to put through an order for nut free food and had still managed to order something with scary wording on the label. Were they safe or not? They got a black cross and joined the other suspect items on the high shelf, pending advice from the allergy doctors.
Beyond the kitchen… nut free toiletries?
Taking a shower later, my gaze fixed on a statement on the conditioner bottle in front of me: “enriched with Queensland macademia nut”. Good grief. Did I need to edit our toiletries too? Where did this end?
A couple of days later, D was rummaging around the drawers in my dressing table. I looked down to see him holding a Burt’s Bees lipgloss I had forgotten I owned. Snatching it off him, I read the ingredients: sweet almond oil. Cue another anxiety spike.
And that’s how we were those first few weeks. Although we had been given simple, straightforward instructions (check the ingredients list, ignore “may contain” wording) and are reasonably intelligent people, there were still ingredients and products which we were unsure about.
We calmed down a little after our first outpatient appointment with the allergy specialist. We were told that we could give D the Tesco “Ingredients: Cannot guarantee nut free” products and the lemon zest cookies, and we could continue to use the toiletries. We were also advised that D would need to actually ingest the allergen to have an anaphylactic reaction. (Just a reminder – I have no medical expertise – just sharing my personal experience here, certainly not giving any advice).
Making sense of allergen advisory labelling
Despite the clear advice we had been given by our doctors, I confess that I am still deterred by some warning wording. Our approach is that if we are ever unsure, then D doesn’t touch the product. So, for example, I would never feed him the Marks and Spencer products that state “Not suitable for nut allergy sufferers”. However, is a product that says “Not suitable for nut allergy sufferers” actually any more dangerous than one which says “Ingredients: Cannot guarantee nut free”? I haven’t a clue. And I’m not the only one. It seems there is widespread confusion on this issue.
The Food Standards Agency is looking into the issue of allergen advisory labelling at the moment: see the FSA website. The FSA survey will look at whether “may contain” wording is being used appropriately and whether different warning statements indicate different levels of risk to the consumer. I really hope the review leads to some clarity and standardisation. Roll on the results, which are expected to be published in autumn 2013.
Update (September 2013)
Since writing this post in January 2013, I have now blogged about:
- UK food allergen labelling law (both now and from December 2014). See Deciphering UK food allergen labelling law.
- How our family’s approach to “may contain” labels has evolved. See The bane of “may contain”: are Oreo a nut-free snack?
For a list of those food manufacturers I have come across which produce at least some nut free products, see Nut free food.