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.
I wonder, too, what it says on the labels of Heinz sold in Canada, where mustard has joined the big 8 as a “priority allergen.” It is also on a list of 14 allergens in Europe that must be named.
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
Selena Bluntzer says
My daughter is allergic to mustard and I wish it was labeled, as it is in Canada. There has to be someone in Canada who can go take a look at the Heinz label for us. 🙂
I wrote a blog post, “Flavorings and Spice are Not Always Nice” about a mistake I made in not calling the manufacturer to determine if mustard was part of their “spices”:
I agree that spices are a growing problem, and I am surprised at how allergists have told me that they can’t be that big of an issue, because they’re not “proteins”. If proteins are the “building blocks of life” and plants are living things, wouldn’t they, therefore, have proteins in them?
Jessica Martin, PhD says
Thanks for this. I do understand the need for companies to keep the “secret sauce” secret, but at the same time it is really frustrating to have labels such as “spices” and “natural flavors.” When you deal with food allergies outside of the “top 8,” the challenges are great. I had a similar experience with Pepperidge Farm gold fish when my son reacted – we think it could have been sesame in the spices, but they would not tell us the simple yes/no answer because “spices” are “proprietary information.” I get the need to keep things secret, but all we really want is the ability to enjoy some convenience food items that don’t need to be made in our own kitchens. I have no desire to recreate goldfish. In general, I think more and more consumers (even the non-food allergy folks) are beginning to demand transparency. We would all benefit.
This doesn’t surprise me at all. We went to a Children’s Hospital Celiac support group meeting last year and they had done a study on different manufacturers -large facilities and small ones – and checked products, ones that said ‘may contain an allergen’ and others that didn’t say the do or even may contain. The results were amazing. The larger facilities had more contaminants than the smaller facilities but it was eye opening. I’ve decided if Evelyn has a reaction to a product even if it doesn’t say it has wheat or barley, etc in it -she won’t get it again. Unfortunately my girl friend Caitlin whose daughter also has the egg, mustard, tomato, nut, sesame, etc. allergies has had bad reactions to different store bought products too. It’s definitely difficult and annoying when the companies give you the run around. I’ve had it happen to me more than once. I’ve told the representative on the phone that sometimes gluten is in the flavorings and they still can’t tell me if it is or not in the product. I’ve also had companies like Dannon tell me they don’t check for gluten so they couldn’t even tell me. A total disregard for what food allergies are about if you ask me.
Read, live and learn,
Can you tell us more about when we might see some non-top8 allergy regulations?
Marissa Tacket says
I would have liked to have seen this article touch on the amount of control that these mega conglomerate companies have on the laws that ultimately effect us DAILY. I would suggest people go with companies that do not try to deceive, and offer full disclosure about their products.