A few days ago we got an email from the mother of super-allergic little boy. She was furious and frustrated by the fact that every delicious looking freefrom food that she found on the FFFood Awards website was effectively barred to her because, although it was being sold as ‘freefrom’ it still carried warnings that it might contain ‘traces of dairy, wheat, gluten, soya etc’. Why can ‘freefrom’ not mean what it says, she wanted to know – that the product is totally free of the allergen?
As anyone who has been following either the Alpro saga or the more recent Tesco nut-warning campaign must be aware, most of those with potentially fatal allergies (or with children with potentially fatal allergies) will not take the unquantifiable risk that a ‘may contain’ warning presents as they simply do not know how great that risk may be. Understandably, they are infuriated by manufacturers who they believe are merely ‘covering their backs’ by slapping on ‘may contain’ warnings instead of genuinely ensuring that the products are totally ‘freefrom’ that allergen.
Similarly, they are infuriated by manufacturers who do not give the derivation of all of the ingredients in their products. If a glucose syrup is derived from wheat, why do they not say so?
While I totally sympathise with their situation, and there certainly are manufacturers who ‘hide’ behind ‘may contain’ warnings and poor labelling, labelling ‘freefrom’ food is not as simple as it seems. So, at the risk of bringing down the wrath of the allergy sufferers on my head as well, this is what I replied to her:
So, the bottom line is, I am afraid, that if you or your family are super sensitive, then shopping is probably always going to be a laborious pain. Even when the new ‘action levels’ come into force, and assuming that all manufacturers use them properly, you will still need to delve further into the manufacturing process to make sure that, for you, it will be safe enough to be acceptable. Sorry, but realistically, I think that is the way that it is….