By Henry Ehrlich
Our contributor Susan Weissman told me that her friend Rose Ann Miller recently called Heinz customer service to ask whether mustard, to which her child is allergic, is one of the ingredients included under the entries “natural flavorings” and “spice” on the label. Rose Ann tells us, “The rep said that he didn’t even know what was in the product and that he doubted if his supervisor even knew. It’s just crazy that a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ was inconceivable to them.”
Subsequently, Rose Ann received this explanation of the company’s food-allergen policies:
Because we understand how difficult it is for consumers with food allergies to find ‘safe’ processed foods, we clearly list the FDA Top 8 Major Allergens on our ingredient panels if they are present in our products.
The FDA specifies the Top 8 Major Allergens are as follows: Soy; Wheat; Peanuts; Eggs; Dairy; Tree Nuts; Shellfish & Crustaceans; and Fish. These ingredients are listed specifically within our ingredient statements. They are also called out in bold print underneath the ingredient statement. Older packaging will only reflect these allergens within the ingredient statement itself rather than restating the information in bold print.
Because recipes are not patentable, the terms ‘natural flavorings’ and ‘spices’ refer to dried spices and seasonings, which are not disclosed on the label for proprietary reasons. MSG is always called out in the ingredient statement and not hidden within natural flavorings or spices. Unfortunately, if you are allergic to an ingredient other than those specifically declared, we are not able to disclose whether it is in the recipe and, therefore, suggest that you avoid using this product.
We do not list if products are run on lines that also produce products that contain allergens such as nuts or wheat. The reason for this is that we follow very strictly HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) guidelines for food production. Heinz utilizes HACCP systems to monitor specific steps in food production to identify and eliminate potential safety problems. This means that products containing an allergen are scheduled to run last, at the end of the production cycle. This is then followed by a complete breakdown and thorough cleaning of all areas including validation of those cleaning processes, thus eliminating the possibility of cross-contamination.
There can be no more iconic a brand on kitchen tables than Heinz Ketchup. In the 1962 movie “The Manchurian Candidate” presidential hopeful John Iselin needs a single number of Communists in the State Department for use in his speeches instead of the bouncing numbers his wife (played wonderfully and wickedly by Angela Lansbury) has insisted on. She settles on 57 when she sees him dumping the red stuff on his breakfast. During the Reagan Administration, there was a movement to have ketchup classified as a vegetable for government-subsidized school lunches; the late Senator H. John Heinz III (R–Pa) famously declared that he knew ketchup as well as anyone, and it was a condiment, not a vegetable. Condiment or not, I still buy Heinz because nothing else quite does justice to my occasional burgers. Who knows? Maybe Rose Ann’s child will develop the same brand loyalty, if it’s only safe.
I do think Heinz’ reticence is a bit ridiculous. Any company that really wanted to emulate Heinz can probably afford gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to analyze it. These are not exactly the launch codes for the nation’s nuclear missiles.
It’s coming here. Although I didn’t mention it in my write-up, Dr. John Oppenheimer mentioned at the recent Auvi-Q™ summit that spice allergies are becoming prevalent enough that standards are on their way.
Photograph by worldmarket.com