Any of you who follow Alexa’s YesNoBananas blog will know that the her family is very excited as three year-old Sydney who has a list of life-threatening allergies and intolerances as long as your arm (including, originally, egg, wheat, nuts, sesame, chickpeas, green peas and banana although bananas fell off the list some time ago) appears to have grown out of his wheat allergy.
If you would like to follow the testing and new wheat assimilation-into-the-diet process, see Alexa’s posts Is it safe to eat wheat?, It IS safe to eat wheat! and Oh brave new world (and its pitfalls). However, her latest post, Addendum, or, I need a drink, flags up yet again how careful seriously allergic people have to be.
Having discovered the M&S Made without Wheat range she was very impressed by the M&S allergen lists on their site and, after careful reading decided that the Supersoft white would accommodate all of Sydney’s remaining allergies. But, when she got to the shop the label on the supersoft white declared: ‘Not suitable for sesame allergy sufferers due to manufacturing method used’ while the warning on the identical loaf but this time sold without crusts – ‘Not suitable for barley and oat allergy sufferers due to manufacturing method used’. So, which is right? The label or the site? And anyhow, how could one of two apparently identical loaves made, presumably in the same factory, be a risk for sesame allergy sufferers but not the other?
This is not really about rubbishing supermarket and manufacturer freefrom departments – in our experience many of them do actually try hard to accommodate allergic, coeliac and freefrom customers but – one has to be realistic. Freefrom and allergen-free foods remain a very small part of a supermarket’s business. So both the amount and the quality of the manpower they allocate to such things as updating on-site allergen lists is, on the whole, insufficient to ensure that the latter will always be update and entirely accurate. M & S make all sorts of disclaimers to that effect on their allergen lists page. So, while the lists are certainly useful to give you some idea of what suitable foods they might stock, they should never be used as a substitute for reading the ingredients label on the pack.
And, if one is being totally realistic, one needs to realise that even the information given on the pack can be wrong – is it, for example, wrong on the breads Alexa was looking to buy in M&S? Although the number of serious allergic events triggered by foods that have been wrongly labelled on pack (as opposed to someone not reading or not understanding the label) are extremely small, the majority of ‘recalls’ in the food industry are as a result of packaging or labelling mistakes – the food put into the wrong pack or the wrong label applied – so mistakes can and do happen.