Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Interpreting Labels

We're more than used to scanning labels here to identify safe products. Even though I know there is a review underway to make labelling even more comprehensive and open up more food choices to allergy sufferers while reducing risk, I feel like at least I understand what the labels mean. In London, we had some real confusion over what different labels said and how to interpret them in terms of safety.

For one thing, the actual ingredients on many items were not listed. Instead, there was an allergy label. In one instance, for example, I picked up a meat pie at a Marks & Spencer's food store. It read:
  • no nuts used in recipe
  • no nuts used in facility
  • cannot guarantee no nuts

To me, that seems somewhat clear, and I would consider the product safe. The 'cannot guarantee' warning seems like a simple blanket statement to avoid liability. In this specific case, I didn't purchase it, but was just looking at different labels.

However, other labels brought up some real questions and concerns and neither my husband nor I knew what to make of them. For example, many products had labels that read:

  • no nuts used in recipe
  • manufactured in a nut environment

Does that mean the product is produced on the same line? In that case, I would consider the product unsafe. However, it could also mean that there are simply nuts being used in other products, but not manufactured on the same line.

To me, it sort of seems like very similar to the 'may contain' warning, but is somewhat more ambiguous and therefore, at least to me, more confusing. When a label reads 'may contain' I simply consider it off-limits. But I'm pretty sure that we probably allow consumption of foods in our house that were manufactured in a nut environment. Why? Because they don't have the peanut-free symbol. That's my interpretation of the situation anyways.

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