A Close Call: Allergy Label OmissionPosted: February 19, 2013
We had a close call last week. I almost fed my dairy-allergic son some store-bought bread containing milk proteins.
These mistakes can happen so easily, which is why I must always be alert. At 20-months, my son is already at an age where I’m watching him constantly (he’s a climber!), but I also have to be extremely aware of everything he eats.
Food label reading is like my part-time job these days. Especially now that I’m looking for products that don’t contain milk or eggs, but may contain traces of peanuts and tree nuts (but not almonds). Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?
Because of this time-consuming task, as I’ve mentioned before, I prefer shopping at Coop. The Swiss grocer has excellent allergy labels for their store-brand items. However, this recent incident reminds me that the allergy label should only be used as an initial screening tool. Nothing should replace reading (and in my case, translating) a product’s entire ingredient list.
Store-Bought Bread for After-School Lunch
On the way to school, we stopped at the grocery store to pick up food for lunch. I grabbed some bread I hadn’t seen before: Naturaplan bio Couronne croustillante. The Coop allergy label only listed “gluten,” which is A-OK for us. I also picked up a familiar baguette for French toast the next morning (we absolutely love Food Allergy Mama’s egg/dairy-free recipe).
Back at home, I buckled my son into his high chair and handed him a piece of the new bread, putting my full trust and confidence in Coop’s allergy label. Seconds after handing him the bread, my instinct told me to review the ingredient list, just to make sure (something I really should have done and usually do at the store).
During my quick scan of the ingredients, “protéines lactiques” (i.e., French for “milk proteins”) immediately caught my eye. Without hesitation, I grabbed the bread from my son—much to his dismay—washed his hands and face, and gave him a piece of the safe baguette.
Let me stress—everything was fine. Nothing bad happened, and maybe if my son had eaten the bread, he would have only developed a few hives. At the same time, it could have been a lot worse, but I’m trying not to think about it.
Reaching Out to Coop
I ended up calling Coop and speaking to about 5-6 different people—my limited French and nonexistent German is largely to blame—until I got the right one. My kids were chasing around, there was an echo, and English was not the first language of the person on the other end, but he seemed to say Coop had done everything they were supposed to, and I would receive some literature in the mail about their food labeling requirements.
After feeling frustrated by the call, I ended up emailing a few other folks, including our allergist and the aha! Centre d’Allergie Suisse. Both indicated that Coop should have listed milk on the allergy label. So, I contacted Coop a second time via email, and in less than 24 hours, I received this response on February 15:
Thank you for your e-mail.
You’re right, on the allergy label of the Naturaplan bio “Couronne croustillante”, the information “includes milk” is missing. The sale of the bio “Couronne croustillante” has already been stopped. It will return in our stores, when the allergy label is completed.
Thank you very much for your attention and your tip!
I thanked Coop for their response, but also mentioned I had just been to one of their stores, and the bread was still for sale on the shelf. Here’s what Coop had to say:
I just asked our bread-specialists about this couronne croustillante. There should be a marker or a poster with the information “includes milk” beside the couronne croustillantes.
In the next few weeks there should be a new bag with the right an [sic] complete information.
Today, I saw that our two Coop stores downtown didn’t have the bread in stock. I’m glad the company is correcting this error, so that other people won’t make the same mistake I did.
Food Label Reading Continues
I want to make this clear—Coop did not break any Swiss laws when they forgot to add “milk” to their allergy label. The ingredient list clearly indicates “milk proteins” as an ingredient, so any responsible parent would have caught that at the store and put down the bread.
While I consider myself a responsible parent, I make mistakes. When I’m tired and running through the grocery store with my kids, I may miss something on an ingredient list. That’s why I love Coop’s allergy labels.
Unfortunately, I put too much trust in that Coop label last week, and I didn’t complete my due diligence by reading the entire ingredient list in advance of feeding that bread to my son. I did end up reading it just in time, but my mistake (not Coop’s error) continues to haunt me—as it should.
This incident reminds me about the importance of carefully reading (and re-reading) every food label. I hope it helps remind others too.