No may contains listed…

So then, allergy parents.  We’ve all been there.

A twinkly new product sits on the supermarket shelf and quietly calls to you across the aisle.  This may even (shock, horror!) be a ‘normal’ aisle.  You walk across to pick said twinkly shiny new product up, in spite of the little voice in your head that’s telling you “don’t bother, it’s bound to contain one of the allergens your child needs to avoid!”

Today, you decide to ignore the little voice and pick the packet up, with hopeful anticipation.

You scan the packet in the nano-seconds that it now takes you to lock-on to an allergen in the ingredients list.
NB: This is the point where you normally breezily place the packet back on the shelf, whilst inwardly seething and asking under you breath why the hell they put egg/milk/wheat* in fresh broccoli anyway.

Having scanned and re-scanned, you find that the packet Does. Not. Contain. Any. Allergens.  You actually fist-bump thin air and triumphantly add the packet to your trolley, smiling from ear-to-ear for the whole journey home.

Still smiling, you unpack your bags and then realisation dawns.  No may contains listed.

No may contains listed…so it’s safe, right?  Err…..not necessarily.  It seems that allergy-life isn’t testing enough, so aside from checking every packet of every product we think might be safe for our kids, we then also have to play detective to find out whether the ingredients have been exposed to any of the allergens during the manufacturing process. Because manufacturers don’t legally have to mark may contains on the packets if they don’t want to.  There is a general feeling out there that ‘may contain’ labelling, when it is used, can be applied irresponsibly by some, as a back-covering exercise.  So, unless legislation arrives to force responsible reporting on packaging of cross-contamination risks during the manufacturing process, we as allergy parents, still have to don our deerstalkers and seek out the information as best we can.

Here are my tips for getting to the bottom of ‘may contains’:

  1. Re-check the pack: Sounds basic but sometimes our super-scanner eyes can miss what’s already there. 
  2. Find the name of the manufacturer and visit their website.  Sometimes additional ‘may contain’ info can be published on the pages relating to the product.
  3. Contact the manufacturer direct: There will usually be a ‘Contact Us’ section where you can find an email address/phone number or a built-in contact form for you to complete.
  4. Have a brief template enquiry drafted (you’ll be contacting manufacturers a lot so save yourself the effort each time and just copy and paste!).  Here’s the type of thing I send:
    Hi,
    RE: [Product Name and variety]
    My son/daughter (XX years old) would love to try the above-named product(s), however he/she has severe allergies to [list allergies].Please could you confirm if your products are manufactured in an environment handling any of the allergens I have listed above or if there is any risk of cross-contamination from them?
    Many thanks….etc etc 
  5. Give them a chance to reply: Most companies respond quickly and from my experience, will give an informative, helpful answer.  However, there will be the odd few who don’t reply.
  6. Use social media: Many companies tend to be quicker at responding to public messages via social media, because these channels are monitored in real time.  The more cynical amongst us might suggest there’s more willingness to respond to posts that can be seen publicly, but I like to think this isn’t the motivating factor.  If still no response, throw your question out to the allergy community via social media. You may find someone’s asked before and can give you current information.
  7. Abort mission: No joy after all of the above?  Personally, this is the point where I decide not to touch the product with a bargepole!  If they aren’t engaged enough with their customers to respond to genuine product queries, I don’t have a great deal of confidence in them!  

*delete as applicable

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