Risk it for a biscuit?

I have a dilemma.

I know most ‘may contain’ food labelling is about arse-covering more than anything else, but do we let our nut, egg and sesame allergic Sidney eat pre-packaged foods that, on the face of it, are fine to eat, but contain the rotten little addendum: “Produced in a factory that handles egg, nuts and seeds”?

Our doctor, who we like very much because he’s sensible yet sunny, says those ‘may contain’ goods are most likely fine to eat if they’re from a major manufacturer or a household name supermarket. But, as he puts it, it depends on how risk averse you are.

I’d like not to be risk averse. I don’t want Sidney to go through life fearing travel, or eating out, or even eating in. I don’t want to deny him foods that would actually be fine to eat out of some vague sense of panic and because the brand’s lawyers said ‘stick that on there just in case someone sues’.

Today at Sainsbury’s I hovered over the baby snacks aisle, and two packs I hadn’t seen before: Plum’s ‘Strawberry Oaty Chomps’ and Ella’s Kitchen ‘Strawberries & Apples Nibbly Fingers’.

At the moment, his only between-meal snacks are fresh fruit, rice cakes, those full of air sweetcorn puff things and yoghurt. It would be lovely to let him have something different and these new bars seem all good: fruit, oats, quinoa…

But they are both produced in the bloody factory that also produces nuts blah blah. I have to confess, it annoys the hell out of me. The foods they make for younger babies have no such warnings; I assume it’s because controls are far stricter for the under-1s and that, once they’re past 12 months, it gets more of a faff, and more expensive, for the manufacturers to continue to be so rigorous.

So I hovered, and I picked them up, and I bought them, and now they’re sitting in our special allergy drawer in the kitchen (yes, we have one). But I’m too nervous to let him eat them. Yet.

What would you do?

10 thoughts on “Risk it for a biscuit?

  1. Sympathies. It must be hugely difficult. But I don’t agree necessarily with your doctor’s suggestion that the bigger the producer / supermarket, the safer the product. Product recalls can (and do) affect any company, and I don’t know of any evidence that suggests the major players are more careful or successful in preventing cross-contamination. You’ll be glad to know that this issue is being tackled, and that allergen thresholds are on their way, which will in a few years time hopefully do away with this sort of warning.

  2. I’m gluten free and always find this a tricky question. Walkers crisps for ages on a lot of flavours said ‘suitable for coeliacs’. Now, on all they say the dreaded ‘made in a factory which handles gluten’. My symptoms aren’t too severe, so I do eat these products. I imagine the decision must be much more difficult for severe nut allergy sufferers. Part of me also thinks I should vote with my feet and not buy these products out of principle. I don’t think there’s a definite answer but if my symptoms were more severe I would probably avoid. As you have said it’s a question of how risk averse you are.

  3. If it looked like a food item I was really interested in I think I would contact the manufacturers, and try to find out a bit more. Did any of the production processes overlap? Perhaps even get someone on the phone and see if they sounded knowledgable about how different food products were made in their factory.
    Or another tack could be to have some home tests in the house to check out some of those products that you come across and are keeping in your allergy drawer. I am guessing they exist for nuts in the same way I have seen them for gluten.

  4. I can completely sympathize! I have bought so many things and placed them in the cupboard only to stare at them for weeks… often passed their shelf life, only wasting the money! There are items I have bought and taken the risk. I treat it exactly as you did for trying various foods in a controlled way. I start with a bite, Benedryl and Epi in arms reach. We work our way through. Since Nathan’s results are abdominal and not necessarily esophogial closing, lip swelling, etc (but still anaphylaxis), we work our way through it verbally. Since he is 7, it is easier… with Sidney, it may be too early to experiment. Trust your heart and all that you have learned on this journey.

  5. Have had this debate with myself so many times! Have to admit that I do allow my son to eat things that say “produced in a factory that also handles milk etc” simply because his diet so bloody limited it’s ridiculous. I do always worry about it though and wish I knew what the risk really was. I fear that one day I will come to regret this decision and end up having to use the epi-pens, call an ambulance, explain it was all my fault, feel horribly guilty for the rest of my life… [sigh]

  6. I also take the risk and toy with the mixed emotions and guilt. As parents we are very hard on ourselves and analysis everything we do.. How many times have you questioned “did I eat unpasturised cheese whilst pregnant; Is that why he is allergic to milk?” I rang “Cow & Gate” about one of their cereals they were very helpful. The dietician phoned back and explained how they measure for cross contamination levels pior to leaving the factory. However they have just decreased their safety levels so food produced in 2012 are safer than 2011. Sorry I cant give you all the fancy names but she phoned me in the middle of a 2yr old tantrum and hungry baby…. Love your blog 🙂

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  8. Angie

    My eldest daughter is allergic (epi pens) to sesame and prawns. As a result I couldn’t give her sesame, any crustacean or mollusc and also was advised not to have tree nuts either as there is a link with sesame… guidance on this is a little different now tho, I don’t think they ban tree nuts if you react to sesame. I discussed at length with her consultant – she is nearly 10 and had her first reaction at age 5. I wouldn’t comment on anything other than our own experiences but here they are: if it says ‘made on a line handling’ … we don’t have it. If it says made in a factory that handles… sesame, nuts or shellfish – we usually have it. If it says may contain traces of – we usually have it BUT it depends on the food. Crackers, breadsticks, cereal bars, chocolate,, biscuits, ice creams, make up etc are all obvious examples of where we are really careful and I won’t always these guidelines. E>G> even tho the label doesn’t say it, they will make a run of seeded crackers (just as an example), then wipe the equipment down and run a batch without seeds. In some factories they have nut or seed free areas – immediately adjacent to the seeded and nut producing lines – this is an example of ‘made in a factory that also handles nuts/seeds/shellfish’. So – I check the labels carefully (I have read the allergy information on packaging and have even found it says ‘may contain or may contain traces of’ … only to find in the ingredients list it actually does include nuts/seeds)… and I am also very careful about what the food is. We have never had to use an epi pen thank God but think it is only a matter of time. My daughter is terrified of being anywhere without me (other than at school who are fantastic and certain trusted friends and even then I have to check all the ingredients, what is being cooked and replay the epi pen training which she is party to all of)… it is very hard, but I never lie, we discuss labelling and types of food and I am honest that there is always a risk (we have to accept there is always some risk or we wouldn’t eat anything given the state of food labelling!!), but we work hard to manage it… Sainsburys as an example never used to label very well – now everything is ridiculously defensively labelled!! same for all the big stores. The best labelling I have seen is Fabulous bakin Brothers – guaranteed nut free – and an American sweet where the label asserted very clearly no nuts (or anything else we worry about). Clearer labelling will make a huge difference to my daughters life and independence, given the profits these firms make why can’t they get it right???

  9. Thanks so much Angie for your post – it’s so helpful to hear what fellow allergy parents do. It is a minefield, isn’t it? I really hope the supermarkets and manufacturers get their acts together soon: if we can do it for hygiene reasons, and do it for vegetarianism etc it’s high time we did it for allergy too!

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