As soon as we were home from hospital, we set about making our house a nut free zone. Before D’s anaphylactic reaction I had only ever looked at food labels to check the calorie count, and even that wasn’t a regular habit. So reading ingredients lists and allergen advice labels was something I hadn’t really given a second thought to before.
When D was discharged, we were told to avoid peanuts, all other nuts and soya. The doctors planned to give him skin prick allergy tests for other types of nuts and soya in a few weeks’ time. They couldn’t do the tests immediately as the amount of medication in his system would have skewed the results. The doctors thought that he was less likely to be allergic to soya, given he had eaten bread containing soya regularly and with no reaction in the past. However, for now, we had to play safe and avoid soya too.
We had been advised to concentrate on the ingredients section of the food label. In the UK and EU, the ingredients list on pre-packaged food must be accurate. So if, for example, a packaged food contains even the smallest trace of peanut, then peanut should be listed. We were told that we could ignore “may contain traces of nuts” wording.
So I armed myself with a bin bag and a black marker pen and set to work on the pantry. Anything containing peanuts, nuts or soya was (obviously) binned. Anything which appeared safe to me (no mention of peanuts, nuts or soya and no warning wording) got a tick. Anything with a safe ingredients list, but with warning wording that made me nervous, got a cross and was put on a high shelf, until we could double check with the allergy specialists at the hospital.
Are nutmeg and coconut safe?
Even though “no peanuts, nuts or soya” sounded straightforward enough, there were still a few ingredients that made me pause for thought. For example, “emulsifier (soya lecithin)”, nutmeg and coconut. I never actually worked out what “soya lecithin” was, but we avoided it until D tested safe for soya. For nutmeg and coconut, a Google search led me to the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network site. This said nutmeg is “generally safe for an individual with a tree nut allergy” but you should ask your doctor about coconut.
“May contain” wording
It quickly became apparent that a lot of the food in our cupboards carried the following wording on the label:
“Recipe: No nuts. Ingredients: Cannot guarantee nut free. Factory: No nuts”.
Even though we had been told we could ignore “may contain” wording, this made me think twice. So “Ingredients: Cannot guarantee nut free” items got a cross and put on the high shelf for the time being too.
Looking at the pantry afterwards, it was pretty bare, with probably around 1/3 of the remaining items labelled “Ingredients: Cannot guarantee nut free”. I think at this stage I felt pretty panicked about what we were ever going to be able to feed D. It was looking like a diet of Weetabix, dried pasta, fresh meat, fish, fruit and vegetables. Whilst that all sounds incredibly healthy, it also meant everything would need to be cooked from scratch. I realised it was also going to require incredible organisation, particularly when eating on the go. And was my toddler ever going to understand that Tesco “couldn’t guarantee” the ingredients for his beloved breadsticks were nut free, or that his McVities rich tea biscuits contained soya?
Time to brave our first post diagnosis supermarket shop…
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.