We receive hundreds of e-mails from our readers each month asking for help solving their food dilemmas. One question that continually pops up in our inbox reads something like this:
We understand first-hand how difficult it is to accommodate multiple allergies: we founded SnackSafely.com because our daughter has peanut and egg allergies, a combination that narrows the list of options significantly. Add to that the lax labeling laws tolerated in the US and an increasing number of people who test positive for allergens beyond the Top 8 and you have a recipe for frustration.
There are two principal issues we face when trying to find foods that are safe for our families:
- If your allergens of concern are amongst the FALCPA Top 8 (peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, milk, soy, wheat, fish, and crustacean shellfish) they must be listed on the label when they are ingredients of the product. But if they’re manufactured on a line shared with those ingredients, it’s entirely up to the manufacturer to decide whether to warn you with a “May contain…” type statement. You may be surprised to learn many don’t. (Click here to read why this is so.)
- If you are coping with allergies to foods outside the Top 8, you’re on even shakier ground because the ingredient may be hidden under an umbrella term like “spices” or “natural flavorings”.
Short of calling the company and speaking directly with a customer service representative, there’s no way to know for sure if the product you are considering is safe. Welcome to America.
SnackSafely.com works closely with over 100 manufacturers that agree to provide us with detailed, up-to-date allergen processing information in return for listings in our publications. We work with companies of all sizes ranging from mega-corporations like Tootsie Roll Industries to small manufacturers that sell a handful of products via the internet. Joining us and having qualifying products listed is entirely free for the manufacturer regardless of their size or whether the company specializes in “Free-From” products.
Using the platform we developed explicitly for this purpose, manufacturers disclose to us precisely how the 11 allergens we track (the Top 8 plus sesame, mustard and gluten) are processed in the facilities and lines where each product is manufactured. Once the process has completed our review process, we know which allergens are ingredients of the product, which are processed on the same line or in the same facility, and which are not processed in the facility at all. For each product, we also know for which allergens the product is explicitly marketed free-from and whether the product holds industry recognized kosher, organic, non-GMO, and gluten-free certifications.
All this is well and good, but wouldn’t be of much value if we didn’t have clear, unambiguous ways of sharing this information with you, the consumer dealing with the same allergen issues we are.
How We Can Help
The Safe Snack Guide
The Safe Snack Guide is a catalog of over 1000 food products updated once or twice each month, all free of peanuts and tree nuts with hundreds free of the Top 8 allergens.
Product entries are preceded by a symbol indicating which allergens are excluded and are followed by codes indicating the certifications they hold. Here’s an example of a line of Top 8 allergen-free products that are certified kosher, gluten-free and non-GMO:
Best of all, the Guide is interactive: click on any entry preceded by a green symbol to see exactly how that product is manufactured with respect to the 11 allergens we track along with the ingredient list, allergen statements appearing on the package and much more.
That interactive information is provided via the other resource we offer….
Allergence is a service dedicated to help you find products free from one or more allergens.
You can opt to enter profiles for each family member with allergen restrictions indicating their tolerance for the allergens we track. Once that information is provided, you surf our product database and the service provides color-coded feedback indicating whether each product meets the criteria for all your profiles, some of your profiles, or none at all.
Here’s an example of a product containing eggs for a family with two members that have allergen restrictions – Janie, who has an egg allergy, and Joey, who has a peanut allergy:
The product page provides you with the critical information necessary to determine whether the product makes sense for your family; in this case, we could decide to purchase the product and keep it in the “Safe for Joey” section of the pantry while warning Janie to avoid it.
Both Allergence and the Safe Snack Guide detail foods in over 40 categories including salty and savory snacks, breakfast cereals, peanut butter alternatives and spreads, dried fruit, grains, chocolate, candy, baking flour and mixes, granola, trail mixes, nutrition bars, coffee, herbs and spices, and many others (even cosmetics!)
While not the sole solutions for every food allergy family, the Guide and Allergence are great resources that can help provide you with options and give you an additional measure of confidence when searching for alternatives.