Day 3 in a Series on Cross-Contamination and Food Allergies: Purchasing Food Products

Grocery shopping for me is always an adventure in learning! I could literally spend hours checking out all the goods.

On my trip out to Vancouver in November, I hit a Whole Foods Market…I was like a kid in a candy store! Luckily my friend Michelle knew what she was getting in to when we set out. Can you imagine we had three to choose from! The closest Whole Foods Market to me is a drive in to Toronto!

Why do I spend so much of my time in grocery stores one might ask? Looking for allergy friendly products for my two boys with mulitple food allergies (dairy,egg,beef,sesame,peanut/tree nut,fish,shellfish,mustard and raspberry) and  READING INGREDIENT LISTS!

Yes, reading ingredient lists is a mandatory grocery shopping rule when there are multiple food allergies to consider. We’re not just talking checking new products, but checking ingredients on ALL products…even those we think we know and trust.

From my experience, I have learned to never take for granted that a product will always remain free of my boys’ allergens. My experience has taught me to ALWAYS READ THE INGREDIENTS LIST.

I have been caught a few times where a product has relabeled their product to include one of my boys’ food allergens on their may contain list. Luckily, we have not encountered any reactions to the trace amounts that the product may/may not now contain, however, I do not like to play Russian Roulette.

How am I to know whether or not the traces will cause a reaction? I would rather pass on the risk.

Some personal experience examples are as follows:

1) Rice Dream Non Dairy Frozen Desserts and Novelties are free of dairy. One day I happened to reread the ingredient list to discover a warning.  Rice Dream states: “they are produced on shared equipment with dairy ingredients and may contain trace amounts of dairy.”  My son was devastated…no more ‘ice cream’.

2) Dempster’s Stays Fresh White Bread used to be the only bread I could find in a store that did not have a disclaimer stating the bread may or may not contain any traces of dairy, egg or sesame seeds on the packaging. Unfortunately, they eventually added one. Again, I just happened to reread the ingredient list and came upon the new disclaimer on the bag. However, if you go to Dempster’s website, there is no may contain warning after the ingredient list. If you go to their website, Dempster’s states: “Every effort is taken to ensure that the ingredients and nutritional information listed here is accurate, however, data may change from time to time.  Please always check the package for the most current information.”

I actually called Dempster’s to discuss the discrepancy. They advised me to follow what is written on the packaging. Due to the package warning, I no longer purchase Dempster’s Stays Fresh White Bread.

Dempster’s Thin Bagels, as of today, do not have a may contain warning on their packaging nor is there one on Dempster’s website. There is the same statement as above after the ingredient list.

Dempster’s Original Bagels, on the other hand, does have a disclaimer on their website stating that the bagels “May contain soy bean,egg,sesame seeds,sulphites and milk ingredients.”

I occasionally buy Dempster’s Thin Bagels for Michael as he likes to have them once and awhile. However, I always check the ingredient list on the packaging each time for any changes in their claims.

3) Barilla pasta: Finding a pasta that has not been manufactured on equipment that processes egg products is limiting. I was purchasing Barilla but since they now have the egg warning I take a pass. Again, it was by chance that I happened to check the ingredient list to find the addition.

SMART pasta by Catelli is our pasta of choice.  I like that it looks and tastes like white pasta with the fibre of whole wheat. Not only that…my kids and hubbie love it! In fact, my husband was watching a SMART pasta commercial and commented that we should give it a try. I replied, “You just ate it for dinner!”

4) Fry’s Cocoa is the latest product I have found to add an allergy warning to their product. I have always noticed that Fry’s 500g container has had an allergy alert warning of possible dairy ingredients but not the 250 g container.That is, up until a few weeks ago. I happened to be in the grocery store and noticed a red band around the top of the 250 g Fry’s Cocoa. It reads, “See back of pack NEW Allergen Information.” In another red band under the ingredient list is the warning, “May Contain Milk”.

I have to admit, I am very impressed with Fry’s Cocoa’s attention grabbing red warning label. More companies should utilize this method of alerting their customers of changes in manufacturing policies.

I called Fry’s Cocoa to inquire about the change. Unfortunately, they were not able to discern why there is now an allergy warning. In fact, they were unaware of the changes.

I have noticed that some grocery stores still have some unrevised containers of Fry’s Cocoa…so I stocked up. I will be purchasing my Dairy Free Cocoa from Guardian Angel. What other brands of cocoa are dairy free?

Uncontrollable Cross-Contamination of Products

I try to be careful with the products I purchase for my boys. I make a mental note to ensure I am reading ingredient labels at each purchase. However, even when all one’s good intentions are in place, there is still one more glitch that can occur…an accidental cross-contamination at the facility.

Summer of 2010, such an occurance happened.

Much to our delight, Natura Rice and Soy milk products by Nutrisoya became available in our local grocery stores…they even had frozen desserts! (ice cream)  I have tried them all… Vanilla, Strawberry, Chocolate and Maple.They are heavenly! Michael and I both love the Maple! I also love their Chocolate Soy Milk!

Summer of 2010, I had baked my Dairy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Apple Crisp. I had just purchased a brand new Vanilla Natura Frozen Dessert to serve with it. Michael was served first as usual. One bite into a mixture of Apple Crisp and Natura’s Vanilla Frozen Dessert was all it took. Michael looked at me with big eyes and I knew. He had a slight tingling in the mouth…always seems to be his first symptom with his food allergens. I grabbed the epi pen, he took an antihistamine and I had him lie down on the couch.

Michael’s allergic reaction did not venture any farther than the tingling of the tongue. I monitored him for the rest of the evening and through the night.

I initially blamed myself for cross-contaminating the Apple Crisp…with what I was not sure…I thought I had been extremely careful. I never thought it could be the Natura Vanilla Frozen Dessert, as I had just opened it and used a clean spoon to scoop it out. I was very puzzled and confused.

It was not until I ran into a friend at the grocery store, her son also has a dairy allergy, that I learned of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)’s recall.

We were standing  by the frozen section where the Natura Frozen Desserts are kept. I made a comment on how there was no Natura Frozen Desserts and about our experience during the summer. Apparently, certain shipments of Natura Frozen Desserts may contain milk.

All of a sudden, it all made sense…it was not the Crisp I had made but rather the Natura Vanilla Frozen Dessert!

It was at this time, that my friend also informed me of the Anaphylaxis Canada’s Registry program. It is a free program that anyone can sign up and receive email updates on ‘product recalls, corporate sponsor updates and messages, food labelling, news on advocacy efforts related to airlines and other hot topics, research and trends in school policies.’ I signed up as soon as I got home.

I found the Natura Frozen Dessert CFIA recall and called mom to check the UPC/Code. Sure enough, they matched!

I am always surprised at the number of allergy alerts that fill up my mail box. I am indeed glad that I registered.

If you are purchasing products of any kind for someone with food allergies, I highly recommend signing up for the service. It could save a life.


How do you feel about purchasing products that have a may contain warning? Do you stay clear of them or take the risk and purchase them?

Do you read the ingredient lists for allergy warnings every time you purchase a product or just now and again?

Has someone you know with a food allergy had a reaction to a product that has trace amounts of their food allergen in it? (I ask this, as that is how we discovered Matthew’s peanut/tree nut allergy. He had a delayed allergic reaction to a cake from a bakery.)

Were you aware of the new allergy warning on the 250g Fry’s Cocoa?

Were you aware of the Anaphylaxis Canada Registry? If yes, how has it helped you? If no, will you be signing up?