[From How to Manage Your Child's Life-Threatening Food Allergies by Linda Marienhoff Coss. Published by Plumtree Press. Copyright © 2004 by Linda Marienhoff Coss. Used with permission.]
If you have any doubts or questions whatsoever as to whether or not a particular product is safe for your child, contact the manufacturer to discuss the product's ingredients and the possibility of cross-contamination with other products. Do this before you feed the item to your child.
Unfortunately, food manufacturer customer service personnel are not always knowledgeable about their company's manufacturing processes. Many parents of food-allergic children find that they can call the same company two times on the same day, speak to two different customer service representatives, ask the same questions, and get different answers regarding the safety of a particular product. For this reason, some parents choose to call the manufacturers of all of the foods which they wish to feed to their children multiple times (on different days) prior to letting their children ingest the food.
You may wish to start a notebook in which you keep track of your conversations with food manufacturers. Your notebook should have a separate page for each manufacturer that you contact. Write the company name and telephone number at the top of the page. For each conversation, make a note of the date and time of day on which you called, the name of the person that you spoke to, the products discussed, and what you were told about the safety of the these products.
Here is a sample “script” that you can use when contacting a food manufacturer to determine the safety of a particular product. Call the Customer Service telephone number listed on the package. The script is most useful for when a company does not use "may contain" warning labels and/or you are dealing with an allergen that is not covered by the Food Allergy Labeling and Consumer Protection Act.
Company: Good Afternoon, how may I help you?
You: Hi! My name is [name]. I have some questions about the ingredients and manufacturing process of [name of specific product].
Company: Yes, ma’am. What is your question?
You: My [son/daughter] has very severe, potentially fatal allergies to [list of allergens goes here]. Ingestion of even a minute amount of these things can cause a reaction. Although the ingredient statement of [name of product in question] does not list any [list of allergens goes here] ingredients, I also need to be certain that it is not produced on the same equipment as something else that does contain these things.
[If the ingredient statement includes “natural flavorings” or “artificial flavorings”]: In addition, I need to verify that the “[natural/artificial] flavorings” referred to on the ingredient statement does not contain any of these allergens. Can you address these issues for me or would I need to speak with your supervisor?
Company: (Note: either the customer service representative will be able to answer the question, possibly by reading the company’s standard allergy information statements to you, or he/she will refer you to someone else – in which case you need to start all over again. Regardless of what answer is given, question it and repeat it back to the customer service representative to ensure that no mistakes are made.)
You: I noticed that the [variety name] variety of this product does contain [allergen]. Are these two varieties produced on different equipment or shared equipment?
Company: (The customer service representative answers your question. If he/she claims that the two varieties are on separate equipment, ask if he/she is quite certain of this fact).
You: So you are certain that [product name] is not exposed to any [list of allergens goes here] ingredients at any point in the production process? How about on the packaging equipment? I need to be quite certain. My son/daughter’s well-being is at stake.
Thank you for letting me know that [product name] is produced on the same equipment as [name of other product], which does contain [allergen]. How can I submit an official request to your company that this allergen information be added to your standard product labeling?