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Poor Labeling Puts Children With Food Allergies At Risk

Posted by Chrissie Cole
Tuesday, November 25, 2008 5:11 PM EST
Category: Protecting Your Family
Tags: Food Safety, Major Medical, FDA and Prescription Drugs, Food Allergies, Whole Foods, Allergens, Toxic Substances, Dangerous Goods


IMAGE SOURCE: © Whole Foods Market company logo

Children with food allergies are suffering life-threatening – and often avoidable – adverse reactions because food manufacturers mislabel their products and regulators fail to police store shelves, finds a Chicago Tribune investigation.

Case in point, Whole Food Markets has long boasted their premium chocolate bars are made the good old fashion way.

Two years ago the company added a manufacturing claim to their product labels. Specifically, the labels stated “good manufacturing practices,” were “used to separate” any potential allergens such as milk, soy or tree nuts.

The labels, likely to attract millions of Americans that suffer from potentially life-threatening food allergies were indeed informative, even comforting but they were also untrue.

An investigation by the Chicago Tribune has discovered that the chocolate bars were, in fact, manufactured in a way that posed a risk to people with food allergies.

In 2007, a year after the “good manufacturing” label was added, a child with food allergies suffered a serious reaction after eating the candy, which contained tree nuts. Two recalls followed and the label was adjusted earlier this year.

An estimated 30,000 Americans require emergency-room treatment and 150 die each year from allergic reactions to food. A large percentage of which is children.

Any one product on the shelf at the grocery store can involve a handful or more of suppliers, each not entirely sure of the other’s health standards. Even those companies marketing themselves as the healthier choice know very little about the safety of their products.

The biggest concern is the cross contamination of certain ingredients inadvertently ending up in other products during the manufacturing or harvesting process.

Several companies have begun voluntarily adding cross-contamination warnings on their product labels in recent years.

The FDA discovered many companies were using these labels for no other reason than protection from potential lawsuits, not for the safety of the customer.

The agency is currently investigating if stricter policies are required to confirm warning labels are consistent and not misleading for the consumer.

The Tribune found 300 or more products with “good manufacturing” labeling in one of the chain’s west suburban stores, including snack mixes, chips and cookies among others – foods generally at risk for cross contamination that can cause serious allergic reactions.

The labeling is misleading, for instance, a consumer with an allergy to wheat may consider buying Whole Foods’ Blue Corn Tortillas because the label states that “good manufacturing practices [were] used to separate ingredients at the facility which also processes milk and soy ingredients.”

But, the reality is that separating ingredients can be difficult if not near impossible.

Our allergen-control practices are effective, says Nona Evans, director of private brand development at Whole Foods. “Millions of products are sold annually and the number of confirmed allergen related-incidents has been low in the single digits,” she said.

A recent report released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds more than 3 million American children have an allergy to at least one type of food, an 18 percent increase from the previous decade. #

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