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Food labels inadequate — no kidding!

Submitted by on Wednesday, 27 August 2008 No Comment

I have no idea why I keep reading labels on foods I know I’ll never be able to buy — allergy-induced obsessive-compulsive disorder, I suppose.

Like this morning, when I stood in the salad dressing aisle and studied bottles of ranch. Never mind that I’ve developed a perfectly acceptable egg-free, garlic-free alternative. Sometimes I like to linger in a fantasy world where I can actually buy prepared foods.

I picked up a bottle of Hellman’s Fat Free Ranch Dressing, figuring it would be egg-free. Before Big Guy’s garlic allergy, we were actually successful in finding several safe dressings in the fat-free line.

Sure enough, no egg. What struck me, though, is that there were no spices listed other than onion juice. Hmm … Then what on Earth are those green flakes floating about in the bottle. Could that be an unlisted ingredient?

So imagine my amusement when I got home and found a news alert in my inbox for an Associated Press story about concern among U.S. and Canadian health officials that labels are so confusing that consumers ignore them.

“Advisory labeling may not be protecting the health of allergic consumers,” the FDA acknowledged.

And in other startling news, the sun rose in the east.

The specific issue in this story was the vague warnings tacked on at the end of ingredient lists: “may contain peanut,” “manufactured in a facility that uses peanuts,” “manufactured on the same equipment that processes peanut,” etc. Apparently I’m not the only one who has no idea what those mean. Even the FDA is clueless.

And they show up in the weirdest places, too. I order cake flour from King Arthur because Softasilk, the only brand sold locally, started showing up with an egg warning three or four years ago. I guessed that that meant they process mixes with egg in the same plant and there’s a possibility some of it could go airborne and land in the flour. But I’m not sure, so I quit buying it.

Wouldn’t it be nice to know for sure? Wouldn’t it be nice if the FDA is serious about this on the behalf of all of us for whom this is no esoteric debate, but a life-and-death decision?

Copyright 2008 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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