The Covid pandemic might make food less safe for those suffering from food allergies. The Food and Drug Administration (one of the main protectors of food safety) came out with a ruling in May that allowed for ingredient substitutions. It announced that “The food industry has advised FDA that they are currently unable to make conforming label changes to reflect these temporary formulation changes without slowing down the flow of production and distribution of some foods. The food industry has requested flexibility when manufacturers need to make such minor formulation changes (discussed further in section III) that may cause the finished food label to be incorrect.” In other words, the ingredients may or may not be the actual ingredients that are in your foods.
During a national crisis, it is unavoidable that food supplies may be affected. What is curious is the wording that states the food industry requested these “relaxed” guidelines. When this announcement was made public, many within the food allergy community were appalled. They asked how they could continue to feel safe with the foods that they were eating.
Allergy-friendly brands have a chance to shine
Luckily, most allergy-friendly products rose to the challenge of staying vigilant for their consumers’ safety. One of the longest standing allergy-friendly product companies Enjoy Life Foods shared “Enjoy Life Foods will continue to stand by its brand promise. The safety and trust of our community is top priority and consumers can continue to rely on the ingredients statement and nutrition fact panel for the most accurate product information.”
Crispy Green, a delicious, healthy and allergy-friendly freeze dried fruit brand jumped to calm consumers’ worries as well. It confirms, “Crispy Green is committed to providing our customers all nutritional information about our products even if not required by the FDA. We are dedicated to ‘Using Food As A Force For Good’ and have built a loyal customer base aligned with this mission. We intend to remain true to our customers by using the same trusted ingredients that we have been using all along.”
Some brands use the FDA’s decision to highlight their rigorous standards. Dave Bloom, Founder of SnackSafely presented a video to explain the FDA’s newest approach and how it may or may not affect you. He reminds us that the statements at the bottom of ingredient labels are not mandatory. “What you may not know is that those warnings are entirely voluntary. The FDA has nothing to say about those advisories. Some companies decide to put those on their labels, while other companies decide not to do so. Snack Safely also has an ongoing list of manufacturers pledging to keep packaging labels updated should they make any changes to ensure the safety of their consumers.
What you can do
Your voice IS important, too! You have a right to require your food be safe for yourself and everyone, too. But the most important factor is to understand how you can be a part of the change that will be the most effective to keep you safe. Here are some things to consider:
- Check with your favorite brands to see how they are responding to the food labeling issues. If you do not feel that they are being transparent about their ingredients, ask for clarification. One example is Sarah Matheson and Rob Lowe, who are Co-Founders of Hungry Harry’s and food allergy parents. They say they know how challenging it can be to find reliable, allergy-friendly foods. “Hungry Harry’s has always been and will always be #freefromthetop14 allergens and made in a dedicated factory. Our packs display clear and prominent ingredients labels on the front and the back of the pack and this will NEVER change.”
- Scope out backup products that are well known for being consistent with their consumers. The allergy community has a reputation of being very fast to find out who is reliable and who is not. Luckily, sources such as Gluten Dude are not afraid to find out directly from the companies themselves and even to caution others when there are discrepancies.
- Go with your gut instincts. As the saying suggests, if something doesn’t feel right, that’s most likely the case. If you see labeling on packages that is different than what is listed on the company’s website or if you are hearing about food recalls and/or reports of people having reactions, consider putting a pause on those products until everything is verified and concrete.
Everyone loves food, but everyone should also love their health and safety just as much. Educate yourself and learn how the food industry works. Here’s a story about how to scope out allergy-friendly frozen foods, which might be a good option. Find out if your favorite go-to products have your best interest at heart. Be sure that what you are eating is, in fact, what you are eating. Above all, love yourself enough to share knowledge with others so that they remain safe as well.
Tracy Bush, Nutrimom® is a Food Allergy Consultant, Author, Blogger & Mother. Her website is http://allergyphoods.com