Embarrassing moments #1

TODAY I cried in the fish aisle at Sainsbury’s. Yes, I’m vegetarian, but it wasn’t out of pity for the poor dead mackerel. And I know it’s ludicrous. But this is what did it:

Seriously? There may be “traces of nuts” in a filleted cod? To begin with, I was irritated. Then I decided to ask the fishmonger fella behind the deli counter exactly what likelihood there might be of peanuts coming into contact with his fish. I knew he wouldn’t be able to shed any light, not really, and I guess I was being a little (politely) facetious. And, of course, he replied in exactly the way I’d expected: “We can’t guarantee no traces.” But in a bit of fish? Really? “It’s more the meat,” he added, helpfully. Like the stewing steak? Or the lamb chops?

Then I got a bit angry – not with him, I hasten to add, but with the idiots who think this is helpful information when, in fact, it is nothing more than a weaselly exercise in back-covering. How hard can it be to keep the fishmongering and butchering sections nut, seed, egg free? But when you can pussyfoot your way out of it with a prominently posted note warning of stark and present danger why bother? You’ve done your bit for the allergy bandwagon, then, haven’t you?

Actually no: you’ve made basic grocery shopping an anxiety ridden nightmare.

And then I cried, a bit. Very embarrassing and nobody saw me, I don’t think. I just pretended to be browsing the tuna steaks and feeding Sidney rice cakes while trying to pull myself together. It’s ridiculous – all I wanted was a bit of cod so I could make him a fish pie. The pre-packed shelves were all empty and the ‘from our fishmonger’ section was telling me I’d be taking a risk. Probaby not a huge risk, granted, but I just couldn’t bring myself to buy any, just in case.

I took myself off to a corner to ring my husband, just to vent a bit (poor sod). Reception was awful but a few minutes later I got a text back from him:

Don’t be upset my darling. We’ll find nut free cod, even if I have to go fishing. xx

So I smiled, and pulled myself together, and went to buy Sid a bit of chicken instead.

26 thoughts on “Embarrassing moments #1

  1. “in any of our products”? “and other allergens”? Would that be celeriac in the loo roll? Barley gluten in the cat litter? Can’t see any mention of fish on that sign so how broadly does it apply? Baffling.

  2. It is such a shame as there are bound to be some products that have traces, but this sign is not at all helpful is it? I know it feels hard sometimes but you will find your way with it all. Most of the time you have to weigh up the chances. What are the chances of there being nut in the fish? Low. What would you do if there is? Be prepared, as always, with piriton and epipen. Scary to have to live like that sometimes, but also, have to live.

    The hardest thing to acknowledge in this I think is that it is more to do with the fact that Sainsbury don’t know where their produce comes from and are not close enough to the source of the food to be sure what’s happened to it on the way to the supermarket shelf. A fishmonger may not have such surety either, but perhaps one in a coastal town would be more sure about how it got to their counter and what it came into contact with. Supermarkets are useful and I use them almost exclusively, but I wished I lived somewhere where I could visit the specialist shops who know about their products. This is long, am sorry. But in the supermarket, I am nervous about burgers, for example, containing rusk or egg. A recent trip to a butchers showed me the difference where the owner was offended by me asking if there was egg in his burgers 🙂 He knew all of the content in detail of all of them as he and his colleagues had made them by hand.

  3. Mart Steveson

    The reason for this is quite simple. This applys to the stuff packaged in store, and cross contamination in the preperation area is possible. If, for example, there was a chinese style prawn kebab with sesamy next to the fish on the preperation area, or the person at the fish counter had just handled some peanuts, this would be enough to cause a reaction in someone with a searious allegy. I for one am glad they wayn people.

    1. Thank you for your post – I understand your point of view. But my point is: take steps to ensure there is no cross contamination. It’s not that hard to do, at least for basic fresh items such as fish, meat. Train staff, keep prep areas clean and free from allergens. I don’t expect that with baked goods etc – that would be very difficult – but it is possible with other foodstuffs. Warnings are a cop-out – they mean the supermarkets get away with doing nothing at all.

      1. Natalie Horspool

        I completely agree that it is a cop-out. All they have to do is wash hands, knives and chopping boards which they are presumably taught to do for hygiene reasons anyway.

  4. Bev

    I totally relate. I recently discovered that one of the only crisp like snacks my son cand have’ being allergic to potato (Doritos lightly salted) suddenly have a may contain on them meaning he can no longer have them. I had a total strop and meltdown in the supermarket, I even swore making a few people stare. People can justify it all they like, the fact is more should be done to avoid contamination and there should be tighter legislation for people putting allergy warnings ie may contain is not specific enough in some cases.

    Also I find that the frozen cod/ pollock sometimes is safe if that helps x

    1. Thanks so much for your post – I agree, there should be proper legislation on this. It’s just a maze at the moment. Your frozen cod tip is v helpful, thank you! I hope you find a suitable Doritos replacement soon…

  5. colleen

    My grocery stores are mostly like that (though I don’t recall anything in the meat/fish department). Lately though, now that my son is older, and able to recognise (as well as communicate) a reaction, I’ve been taking more of a chance. Still avoid the store baked goods, and salads from some stores.
    My suggestion is to try local fish and farmer’s markets.
    Grocery stores are going to lose business if they keep this up.

    1. You’re probably right – the independents at fish and farmer’s markets probably know much more about the provenance of their food and what contamination may be possible. If we all did the same, wouldn’t that be great – if only the big supermarkets gave a toss!

  6. This totally bugs me too – it is not allergy friendly. It is a cop out that says we don’t need your business if you have any food allergies!

    Sometimes the fish guys will go into the back and get us a “clean” fish that is still packed – hasn’t been out yet.

  7. Jessica

    I found your blog from the “Allergic Living” repost. I just wanted to tell you. I’ve cried in the grocery store before – often. Probably a few dozen times. When a product changes their labeling or contents. When something that I used to be able to eat now gives me hives due to the ever illusive “spices”. Hang in there! You are a good mama and your son is privileged that you care so much.

    1. Thanks so much for your post and your lovely words. Well, at least it’s not just me, I suppose!
      I wondered why I’d had a flurry of visitors today – where did Allergic Living repost my blog? I haven’t seen it!

      1. Jessica

        On Facebook. But it was a post that I could really relate to so I wanted to let you know that you weren’t alone. I don’t have kids yet, but I myself have severe adult onset allergies, and I love reading other people’s posts about the frustrations we all face with finding healthy, full-disclosure food.

  8. The grocery stores over here do the same thing. Here’s the sign from the one where I usually shop: http://www.gramfeed.com/instagram/207313895195788394_45387416

    I would much rather have an unnecessary cross-contamination sign, than have one omitted, but it shows no thought whatsoever. Is there REALLY a possibility of shellfish in produce? Or eggs in the meat department? This is a legal disclaimer meant to protect the store rather than help the customer.

  9. Pam

    Thank you for this post. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who thinks like this. I personally think many of the signs are both back-covering and suggest a lack of health safety in the store or restaurants food processing procedures. But it does add quite a bit of anxiety to trips to the grocery store!

  10. I agree totally with MyItchyBoy’s comment that the large food retailers have no idea where the product comes from and have lost touch with reality. And for as much as you would like to believe that the staff in those large food retail shops wash their hands and could manage the concept of not cross-contaminating food, I’m sorry to tell you it’s unlikely. Perhaps we should see this sign as a sign that we need to shift back to supporting a local fishmonger or butcher who knows where their food comes from.

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  12. tglancey

    Actually, I would take precaution due to this warning and I appreciate it. In our area Wegmans, they have the same labeling on their fresh meats from the butcher. This is due to possible cross contamination in the prep area. The prep area is an open area used for seasoned and unseasoned products. I have found in another store they prep almond crusted salmon with regular, unseasoned fish, thus the cross contamination issue. This may have the same scenario. We have to be very careful in every environment, even the butcher shop in the grocery store.

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