Swiss Allergy Label: A Special Certification for Allergen-Free Products

aha! label soy yogurt

When food products contain (or may contain) potential allergens, federal laws in Switzerland require that companies clearly disclose this information on food labels. In comparison, when a company wants to disclose that its products are free from these same allergens, Switzerland has a private certification process overseen by Service Allergie Suisse.

Over time, I’ve noticed this label on several food products we routinely purchase for my son and wanted to know more about it. Here are the questions I had about the Swiss Allergy Label and the answers I found, based on information obtained from the Service Allergie Suisse website and an email I received from this agency in August 2014.

Please note: The information shown below, particularly the number of certified products and the companies that produce them, is meant to provide a snapshot of this program at a particular period of time. For the most current information, you can visit the Service Allergie Suisse website or subscribe to its News Service.


When did the Swiss Allergy Label start?

The Swiss Allergy Label program was started in 2006 by Service Allergie Suisse, a private independent agency based in Bern.


What is the purpose of the Swiss Allergy Label?

The focus of Service Allergie Suisse is on “consumer goods and services that are produced, labeled and sold with particular consideration given to allergy and intolerance problems.”

According to the email I received from Service Allergie Suisse, three independent authorities evaluate every product being considered for this allergen-free certification. For food products in particular, companies must also demonstrate that they have systems in place for quality control and allergen management. Finally, there are regular re-audits to ensure ongoing compliance.


How many products have earned the Swiss Allergy Label?

On January 13, 2015, I found 173 products listed on the Service Allergie Suisse website, as shown below.

Table: Number of products with the Swiss Allergy Label by category

Product category Number of products
Food  84
Cosmetics  46
Textiles  24
Household appliances  8
Washing and cleaning agents  8
Technical products (e.g., air filters)  3
Medical products  0
Total  173

Source: Obtained from the Service Allergie Suisse website on January 13, 2015; http://www.service-allergie-suisse.ch/257/product-categories/?oid=1464&lang=en.


Which companies have products with the Swiss Allergy Label?

Currently, the 14 companies listed below have products that have earned the Swiss Allergy Label:

In terms of food products, the vast majority of these products are sold by Migros. Based on my search, it appears that Coop has fewer than 10 food products from its own “Free From” line that have been certified by Service Allergie Suisse.


What services have been certified with the Swiss Allergy Label?

In addition to certifying products, the Swiss Allergy Label can also be applied to services, including catering and gastronomy. At this time, two companies have been certified for such services: (1) Menu and More for catering and (2) Migros for gastronomy. Menu and More is active in catering meals for children and adolescents, according to the email I received from Service Allergie Suisse. Since October 2014, Migros has expanded it range of certified products, and you can find these products in dozens of its locations (click here for the complete list).

For more information about the requirements for restaurants to receive this certification, please review this summary document from Service Allergie Suisse.


Are you familiar with the Swiss Allergy Label? Do you have products in your home certified under this program? I’m interested in any feedback you may have about this program, so please leave a comment below if you have something to share. Many thanks!

Updated: January 15, 2015

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New Requirements for Food Allergen Labeling in Switzerland

In the coming year, you will start seeing some changes in how food allergens are labeled in Switzerland. For people living with food allergies and intolerlances, for whom label-reading is a daily activity, here’s a quick summary of the new federal requirements.

Food labels allergens scottish oat cakes

Food allergen labeling on a package of Scottish Oatcakes from Northern Ireland (and in braille)


What is the purpose of the new Swiss labeling requirements for food allergens?

On November 25, 2013, the Swiss Department of the Interior and the Federal Office of Public Health revised the federal ordinance concerning the labeling of food allergens: Ordonnance du DFI sur l’étiquetage et la publicité des denrées alimentaires (817.022.21). These revisions mean that food labels must clearly indicate 14 common allergens by using a special font, character style (e.g., capitalized letters), background color or other appropriate means. Even though Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, these revisions are consistent with the requirements of Article 21 under the EU Labeling Directive.


When will these new requirements become effective?

The revised ordinance came into effect on January 1, 2014, but there is a 2-year transitional period. Companies have until December 31, 2015 to become fully compliant with the new requirements, or until they exhaust their inventories of food products that comply with the previous ordinance (see Chapitre 6: Dispositions finales, 817.022.21). As such, it’s possible you may still see products in 2016 that don’t meet the new requirements, but still can legally be sold to consumers.


What potential allergens must be labeled on food products in Switzerland?

There are currently 14 common allergens that must be identified on food labels in Switzerland. Please note: The 2013 revisions to the ordinance for labeling food allergens did not make any changes to this list.

  • Celery

  • Crustacean shellfish (i.e., crab, lobster, and shrimp)

  • Eggs

  • Fish

  • Gluten (i.e., wheat, rye, barley, oats and spelt)*

  • Lupine

  • Milk

  • Mollusks (i.e., oysters, clams, mussels, or scallops)

  • Mustard

  • Peanuts

  • Sesame (FYI: There’s a new petition to include sesame among the required allergens for food labels in the United States).

  • Soybeans

  • Sulphur dioxide or sulphites

  • Tree nuts

*Please note: The category of “gluten” includes wheat, which is considered one of the “Top 8” allergens in the United States.


How did the Swiss government make companies aware of the new requirements?

The Federation of Swiss Food Industries organized a “food legislation continuing training day” in 2014, according to written responses I received earlier this month from an official from the Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office (FSVO) at the Federal Department of Home Affairs. At this event, FSVO provided detailed information about the revised ordinance for labeling food products. In general, “companies are responsible for ensuring that their products conform to current legislation (self-monitoring).” At this time, FSVO does not have any information on the extent to which companies are currently complying with these new requirements.


Who is responsible for monitoring the labeling of food allergens in Switzerland?

In Switzerland, federal agencies do not have the responsibility for monitoring food products on the market, according to the written responses I received from an FSVO official. Instead, cantonal executive authorities fill this role: Contrôle des denrées alimentaires en Suisse. In particular, these cantonal agencies “are responsible for monitoring the conformity of food products that can be marketed without regulatory approval.” If you have questions or concerns about a particular product that may not be in compliance with the current regulations, you can contact these authorities for assistance.


Where can I learn more about the revised requirements for labeling food allergens in Switzerland?

For detailed information about these revisions in French, German and Italian, here are some helpful links from FSVO:

  • Revisions 2013

  • Communiqué de presse: Révision de la législation sur les denrées alimentaires : protéger la santé et éviter les tromperies (December 3, 2014)

  • Dossier de presse: Révision annuelle de la législation sur les denrées alimentaires—Les points forts de la révision (December 3, 2014)

 

In my opinion, it’s great seeing these new requirements for food labels in Switzerland and throughout the European Union. Anything that can help keep consumers safe, without creating an unnecessary burden on companies, seems like a welcome change.

Updated: January 15, 2015

aha! 2014 Awards and a Giveaway

On Wednesday, October 23, the aha! Allergiezentrum Schweiz (Swiss Allergy Center) held its 2014 awards ceremony at the Bern Stadttheater. I somehow snagged an invitation to this year’s event. The thoughtful staff members at aha! are often fielding my questions via email, and it was such a pleasure getting the chance to meet them all in person. I was also excited to learn about the people and projects receiving awards, as they represent some important new opportunities to increase awareness and improve the quality of life for children and adolescents living with food allergies in Switzerland.

Stadttheater Bern

Bern Stadttheater

Unfortunately for me, all the speeches and presentations during this event were in Swiss German, but I guess that’s to be expected on the other side of the Röstigraben! Thankfully, the French version of the written program and the PowerPoint presentations helped me to follow along. To learn about the award winners, aha! has information on its website in German and French. Three projects shared the grand prize this year, all with a particular focus on peanut allergy and anaphylaxis. Here’s my quick summary of the 2014 grand prize winners:

  • Angelica Dünner: Erdnussallergie und Anaphylaxie (Peanut Allergy and Anaphylaxis) is a nonprofit organization based in Zurich that provides information for people living with food allergies, which Ms. Dünner helped to create three years ago. In 2014, among other activities, Ms. Dunner obtained permission from Food Allergy Research & Education in the United States to translate into French and German two children’s books about Alexander, an elephant with a peanut allergy. You can purchase these books via the organization’s website. When my 3-year old starts school next year, I’m planning to order a copy for his new classroom. I’ve exchanged emails with Ms. Dünner several times in the last year or two, and I was delighted to finally meet her. Her group is doing important work in Switzerland, so please consider becoming a member today.

  • Dr. Alice Köhli: At the Universitäts-Kinderspital Zürich (University Children’s Hospital) in Zurich, Dr. Köhli is the head of the Allergologie department. She has been working in collaboration with Ms. Dünner to offer food allergy and anaphylaxis training for parents, teachers and other caregivers of children with food allergies. The purpose is to help prevent anaphylaxis and to teach people how to respond to severe allergic reactions, should they occur. To date, these workshops have only been offered in German.

  • Dr. Ferdinanda Pini-Züger: For the Canton of Zurich, Dr. Pini-Züger is the director of the Sektor Schulärztlicher Dienst (School Medical Sector). Also working with Ms. Dünner, Dr. Pini- Züger helped introduce informational sheets for parents and teachers on peanut and tree nuts allergies and anaphylaxis. She also helped to develop a legal agreement between parents and the school district on how to manage food allergies in the classroom, based on existing primary school law. According to aha!, this is the first time informational sheets on food allergies have been prepared by a school district and shared on their website. This project is of great interest to me, and working with aha!, I would like to develop a similar set of materials in French for my son’s school.
aha! awards 2014 2427x2517.40

The view from my seat before the aha! 2014 award ceremony

Congratulations again to the three deserving winners of the aha! 2014 award, and a special thanks to the generous aha! staff members for allowing me to attend the ceremony. I hope these projects can be replicated soon in other regions of Switzerland and in different languages, namely French and Italian. I will continue to follow their progress and share updates in the future.


A Peanut-Free and Tree Nut-Free Giveaway

Giveaway prize 3516x2463

You could win these products! Please read the instructions below.

Since peanut and tree nut allergies were a focus of this year’s aha! awards—and one of the kind organizers of the 2014 Food Allergy Bloggers Conference just sent me a complementary box of allergy-friendly products—I wanted to share some of these treats by trying my first-ever giveaway. Here are the details, if you’re interested in entering:

  • How to enter: Please leave a comment below with the answer to this question—What is your favorite allergy-friendly product?
  • Deadline: Saturday, November 8 at 12:00 PM (Swiss time). I will randomly select a winner and announce their name in a comment below on Monday, November 10.
  • What you win: I will send to you, wherever you are, a box of peanut-free and tree nut-free goodies, including:

Full Disclosure: As I mentioned, I received a complementary box of allergy-friendly products from the Food Allergy Blogger Conference. However, I did not receive any compensation from the Food Allergy Blogger Conference or from any of the product manufacturers listed above, nor I was expected to hold a giveaway via Dairy-Free Switzerland with these products. Any opinions expressed in this or other posts on Dairy-Free Switzerland are solely my own. The King Arthur Flour Golden Flax Meal is my contribution to the giveaway. As always, please read labels carefully to make sure these products do not contain any of your known allergens.

I hope you all had a wonderful (and safe) Halloween and an excellent weekend. Thanks in advance for those of you entering my giveaway, and good luck!

Allergy-Friendly Product Recommendations: Crème à Tartiner, Biscuits and Ice Cream

As I’ve done in the past, I like to share allergy-friendly product recommendations when I find something exceptional. Here in Switzerland, I often buy the following products, all of which are free of dairy and eggs. We really like these products because they’re allergy-friendly (at least in our home), and because they taste great. Maybe they’re some of your favorites too?

Please note: Ingredient lists and allergen information can change, so please make sure to read food labels carefully. We recently noticed a new allergen warning added to one of our favorite products, Roland Sticks. It occurred because of a change in the company’s manufacturing practices, so we’ve unfortunately had to stop buying it.


I. A Savory Spread: Crème à Tartiner

Alnatura Streichcreme-Toskana

Alnatura

Allergen info: Free of the top-10 allergens.

Where to buy: This product can be found in select Migros stores in German-speaking Switzerland or online via LeShop.ch. The full ingredient list and nutritional information for this product are available at Alnatura’s website (in German and French).

My review: This versatile German product has “creme” in its name, but doesn’t contain milk. I probably wouldn’t have given it a second look at the store because of the name alone, but when Migros sent me a complimentary box of allergy-friendly Alnatura products, including the Streichcreme-Toskana, we had to give a try. Since then, we’ve been hooked. Somehow this smooth spread made of sunflower oil and seeds, red pepper, tomatoes, herbs and more tastes deliciously creamy. It’s great on a sandwich with turkey or chicken. I also toss it with hot pasta and steamed veggies to make a quick lunch for the boys. Along with the Toskana, Alnatura’s Streichcreme comes in other flavors, which I have yet to try: Aubergine (Eggplant), Curry Mango Papaya and Beet.


II. Biscuits sans Dairy and Eggs (contains: tree nuts)

Original Dar-Vida 5-Korn Biscuits

Dar-Vide Cookies 3128x2138
Allergen info: Contains almonds, gluten and wheat. May contain traces of hazelnuts.

Where to buy: Available at Coop and Migros. Hug AG makes Dar-Vida products, and information is available in English via their website.

My review: We always have a box of Original Dar-Vida crackers in our house, and now we’ve discovered this company makes an allergy-friendly biscuit as well. This Swiss product reminds me of the Belvita biscuits my mother brings us from the United States. While these biscuits are a safe treat for my son, some of the other flavors with pear or chocolate either contain or may contain traces of milk, so please read labels carefully.

 

III. Allergy-Friendly Ice Cream

Glace à l’arôme de cacao or vanille, Glace avec gaufrette

Migros ice cream 2247x3005
Allergen info: The ice cream products contains soy. The ice cream cone treats contain soy, gluten, hazelnuts and wheat.

Where to buy: Migros. You can search for these products via Migros’ Migipedia website (in German, French and Italian).

My review: These Italian-made products from Migros saved me a lot of time this summer. In April and May, I began collecting allergy-friendly ice cream recipes, free of dairy and eggs. Then, I somehow came across these aha! products online when I was placing order via LeShop.ch. First, we tried the vanilla ice cream with much success. After that, my sons tried the Cornets, or ice cream cone treats, which they both loved. Finally, we sampled the chocolate ice cream, and it’s just as good as the other products. Instead of having to experiment with my ice cream maker all summer, I served these products to my son instead. Plus, it was so wonderful being able to give him his first-ever ice cream cone!



Full disclosure
: As I mentioned, I received a complimentary box of Alnatura products from Migros, including the Streichcream-Toskana. However, I did not receive any compensation from Migros, Coop or other manufacturers to write about these products. Any opinions expressed in this or any of my other posts are solely my own. If you produce an allergy-friendly product and would like to send me a sample, please feel free to contact me. However, please keep in mind that I will only share information about a product if I think it’s exceptional and could be helpful to others.

What are your favorite allergy-friendly products that are available in Switzerland? Please leave a comment below and let us know. These products can make such a difference in expanding the options available to people with food allergies and intolerances. Many thanks!

Granola Bars, Hives and Cross-Contact

Managing my son’s food allergies often involves an assessment of trust. Do I trust a restaurant to serve a safe meal that’s free of cross-contact? Will a crèche (child care provider) know how to identify and respond to an allergic reaction? When I buy prepared foods at the grocery store, I also put my trust in the manufacturer to fully disclose allergens on its labels. Even though Switzerland has requirements in place for labeling allergens as intended and unintended ingredients, I still recommend contacting the manufacturer if you have any doubts, as I learned most recently from our experience with Coop’s chocolate-coated granola bars.

DSC05021


Soft Snack Granola Bars

I first discovered Coop’s apricot “Soft Snack” granola bars last year, and they quickly became one of my son’s favorite treats. Then, I noticed a chocolate-coated cereal bar from the same product line. From the start, I thought the product wouldn’t be safe. Swiss-made chocolate always seems to carry a warning about potential traces of milk, eggs or almonds. I read through the ingredients and the allergy declaration, but everything looked okay for my son.

Back at home, I served the bars to my son. On at least two occasions, he developed some hives around his mouth. Concerned about the potential for cross-contact with his allergens—even though it wasn’t indicated on the package—I stopped buying them.

Last month, I finally decided to contact Coop and ask about unintended ingredients for the chocolate “Soft Snack” granola bars, as well as the “Bio Crunchy Choco Riegel” bars. As always, Coop responded thoughtfully and promptly to my questions. For its two granola bars made with chocolate, a Coop consumer service representative wrote in an email that:

“…we cannot guarantee that these products are 100% free from milk, eggs and almonds because our manufacturer has a factory which processes gluten, eggs, milk, nuts and soy. This means that products may still contain small traces below the legal limits unless otherwise declared on the packaging (e.g. gluten free).”


“May Contain Traces of…” 

Even though traces of my son’s allergens may unintentionally be included in these granola bars, Coop wrote that the amounts fall below the limits in which Swiss regulation requires a company to list them on the label: 1 gram for each kilogram of the finished product. (For more information about Swiss labeling requirements, see Ordonnance du DFI sur l’étiquetage et la publicité des denrées alimentaires, Art. 8). At the same time, manufacturers can voluntarily label their food products to indicate the potential presence of allergens, even if the unintended amounts fall below these limits. For these granola bars, Coop has decided not to include such a statement.

I emailed Coop last week to see if they would consider adding a voluntary statement about potential traces of allergens to these cereal bars. In addition, I inquired as to whether any of their food products include such a voluntary statement, even if the amount of unintended allergens falls below the Swiss limits. Yesterday afternoon, I received the following statement in an email from Coop:

“Whenever possible, we avoid the use of warnings about traces of allergens, as we believe that such warnings unnecessarily restrict the choice available to allergy sufferers. For this reason, manufacturers are only required to state unintentional contamination with allergens in the product information (which we use for the declaration) if they exceed the legally defined limits. Many manufacturers also specify traces of some allergens that are well below the limit, which we then include in the declarations on the product.”

While I want Coop to be absolutely clear about what allergens could be included in its food products, I can also understand their rationale. Blanket allergy statements like those recently seen at Tesco in the UK, for example, do not help consumers.

I think it’s great that Switzerland has set limits for labeling unintended allergens, but it’s still up to manufacturers to include a “may contain” or “shared equipment” statement for products that fall below these limits. This leads to inconsistent practices among manufacturers, which can be challenging for consumers. For example, an overly cautious allergy warning may unnecessarily limit the options for consumers. On the other hand, without full disclosure of unintended allergens, a consumer may be putting themselves at risk of an allergic reaction.

In my opinion, voluntary labeling of unintended allergens doesn’t always meet the needs of people living with severe food allergies—for which even these trace amounts can sometimes be harmful. Therefore, if you have to avoid incredibly small amounts of allergens and have questions about food products and cross-contact—whether its Coop or Migros or any other grocery store—trust your instincts. Don’t hesitate to contact the manufacturers directly, just to make sure—for your own safety and peace of mind.

I’m curious to hear from others on the “may contain traces” labeling issue. How often do you contact manufacturers? What are the labeling requirements where you live for unintended allergens? Thanks in advance for sharing your thoughts and comments. Bon week-end, all.

Product Recall: Migros Soy Milk

When I checked our mailbox this morning, I was surprised to find an envelope from Migros marked with, “Information importante de votre Migros.” Inside, it contained a letter about Migros recalling a product that we routinely buy: Soja Line Drink Calcium. Apparently, some cartons of this product contain lactose-free cow’s milk instead of soy milk. You can click here for more information about the product recall, including product numbers and sell/use by dates.

2013-08-23 14.15.37

Thankfully, when I checked the five cartons we had in our cupboard, none of them had the dates listed as part of the recall. It made me wonder though… Did we serve him lactose-free milk without any reaction? I doubt it, but we’ll never know for sure. The outcome could have been disastrous.

Did you receive a similar letter from Migros? I’m so glad they sent a letter, but wish I would have known about this sooner. It looks like this recall made some of our local papers on Wednesday this week—2 days ago. I truly hope that no one with a severe milk allergy consumed this recalled product by mistake. Please help get the word out, if you know anyone that might be affected.

In the future, I hope to learn about recalls like this sooner. Switzerland’s Office fédéral de la santé publique (OFSP) maintains a list of recalled products, and I just signed up to receive an email when the list gets updated. Here’s the link (in French), if you want to sign up too. I’ll do my best to try and share relevant food-related product recalls, as they come up.

We just made it through our first week of school. Bon week-end, everyone, and be safe! Thanks for your continued support.

 

UPDATE: A Response from Migros

I sent an email to Migros earlier this month to ask about the actions it had taken since recalling its Soja Line Drink products back in August 2013. A representative from Migros promptly wrote back, and I wanted to share what I learned. Most importantly, I was relieved to find out that the company caught the error in time, so none of the mislabeled soy milk cartons were ever sold. Since the recall, the company has reviewed its production processes and adapted them where necessary. In addition, an external certification was conducted of the production sites and monitoring processes.

If you have additional questions for Migros, you can contact the company directly via its M-Infoline.

Updated November 18, 2013

World Allergy Week 2013

Today marks the last day of World Allergy Week 2013, an annual event sponsored by the World Allergy Organization (WAO) to increase awareness of allergic diseases and asthma. This year’s event focuses on food allergies as a rising global health problem. According to WAO,

  • Food allergies appear to be increasing worldwide, in both developing and developed countries, and especially among children.
  • The severity and complexity of food allergies are changing.
  • With the prevalence of food allergies increasing, food labeling improvements are needed, as well as access to epinephrine.

In an effort to help spread the message of World Allergy Week, here’s some food-allergy related information pertaining to Switzerland and all of Europe.


Food Allergy Prevalence in Switzerland

Back in August 2012, I wrote a brief post about the prevalence of food allergies in Switzerland, Europe and the United States. The aha! Swiss Allergy Center estimates that 2-8 percent of the population in Switzerland has some type of food allergy.

In addition, the WAO’s 2011 White Book on Allergy includes more detailed information on food allergy prevalence worldwide.


Swiss Food Labeling Requirements

According to a recent report published by the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI), Switzerland’s food labeling requirements are considered a best practice. In October 2012, I wrote a blog post with a quick overview on Swiss food labeling for allergens.


European Data and New Research

For comprehensive information on food allergies in Europe, check out EACCI’s 2013 Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Public Declaration. It provides data on the prevalence of food allergies, their impact and recommendations for tackling food allergies and anaphylaxis.

Furthermore, a new study led by the University of Manchester—billed as the “largest-ever food allergy study”—will examine the potential causes of food allergies and ways to better assist food allergy patients, such as improving food labeling requirements.


Special thanks to the World Allergy Organization for sponsoring this week-long event. Honestly, I wish the need for this event didn’t exist, but I’m grateful that organizations worldwide are working together to address this growing, global health problem.

For more information, check out the list of World Allergy Week 2013 resources.

Milk Ingredients: French, German and Italian Translation

Our local Swiss allergist recently gave us a list of milk-based ingredients in French. To the extent it might be helpful, I’ve shared her list below, along with the German and Italian translations.

DSC07552

Milk, Lait, Milch, Latte

First, these products and ingredients traditionally contain milk, unless otherwise specified (e.g., soy-based products):

English French German Italian
Cheese Fromage Käse Formaggio
Yogurt Yoghourt Joghurt Yogurt
Cream Créme Sahne Crema
Butter Beurre Butter Burro
Ice Cream Crème glacée Eiskrem Gelato

In addition, the following ingredients indicate the presence of milk:

English French German Italian
Milk, milk powder Lait, poudre de lait Milch, milchpulver Latte, latte in polvere
Skim milk, skim milk powder Lait écrémé, poudre de lait écrémé Magermilch, magermilchpulver Il latte scremato, latte scremato in polvere
Milk proteins Protéines lactiques, protéines de lait Milchproteine Proteine ​​del latte
Evaporated milk, Condensed milk Lait évaporé, lait concentré Kondensmilch Latte intero concentrato
Whey, whey powder, or lactoserum Petit-lait, poudre de petit-lait or petit-lait en poudre; lactosérum, poudre de lactosérum Molke, molkepulver, lactoserum Siero di latte, siero di latte in polvere
Milk solids Matière sèche du lait Milchfeststoffe Latte solidi
Lactose Lactoses Laktose Lattosio
Lactalbumin Lactalbumine Lactalbumin Lattoalbumina
Casein Caséine, caséinates Kasein Caseina
Milk curds Caillé Milch quark Latte cagliata
Animal proteins, animal fat Protéines animals, graisse animale Tierische proteine, tierische fette Le proteine ​​animali, grassi animali
Concentrated butter Beurre concentré Butterfett Burro concentrato

This is a work in progress… If you have any suggestions for additional milk-based ingredients that should be added or corrections to the translated terms, please leave a comment below or send an email to dairyfreeswitzerland@gmail.com.

Thanks for your help!

Updated: March 3, 2013

A Close Call: Allergy Label Omission

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).

Coop's Couronne croustillante bread (a "crisp crown")

Coop’s Couronne croustillante (a “crisp crown”)

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.

Ingredients and allergy label in German, French and Italian

Couronne croustillante – Ingredients and allergy label in German, French and Italian

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!

Yours sincerely,

Coop

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.

Kind regards,

Coop

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.

Goodbye Dogs, Hello Nuts

We went back to the allergist this week to discuss our son’s blood test results. Overall, we were very happy with the news. No major changes to the way we eat or shop for now, but we’re making some slight modifications. Hopefully we can make some major changes later this year.

Test results in the United States had confirmed our son’s milk allergy and indicated an egg allergy. As a result, our allergist advised us to avoid peanuts, tree nuts and sesame. To be on the safe side, we assumed our son was allergic to these foods until more testing could be done. Now that we have results from both a skin and blood test here in Switzerland, here’s what we know:

Food Skin test Blood test Recommended next steps
Peanuts No reaction Negative Introduce products that “may contain traces” of peanuts, sesame and tree nuts, except almonds. If all goes well during the coming weeks and months, then we can start introducing these foods as actual ingredients (i.e., cookies with hazelnuts).
Sesame No reaction Negative
Tree nuts No reaction, except almonds Negative (the test did not include almonds)
Eggs Moderate reaction Positive for one egg protein; negative for another Schedule a food challenge for baked egg at a nearby children’s hospital in the coming months.
Milk Major reaction Positive for both milk proteins, but the result was lower than we expected Schedule a food challenge for milk at a nearby children’s hospital in six months, when our son is 2 years old.

In addition to getting more detailed information about food allergens, we learned that our son is very allergic to dogs. The blood test results for dogs indicates a level nearly three times that of his milk or egg allergy. Our allergist in the United States had already told us before that we shouldn’t own a dog or other pets because of the connection between food allergies and asthma.

Now that we know about his allergy to dogs, our Swiss allergist said that if we owned a dog, there’s a good chance he would develop asthma. Honestly, this diagnosis has helped determine the cause for a few of the mysterious hives he’s had. One outbreak happened after returning from a friend’s house where the boys played with a dog. I had no idea what could have caused the hives, since we hadn’t eaten anything for hours, so it must have been the dog.

Despite the bad news about the dog allergy, I feel overwhelmingly relieved about these results. I keep reading about the severity of peanut allergies in the United States and terrifying stories about families affected by these allergies. My son may have an almond allergy, but he doesn’t have—and hopefully will never develop—anaphylaxis to peanuts. Plus, we received encouraging news about his milk and egg allergies that indicate their severity may be lessening (i.e., he’s growing out of them).

Reintroducing “Traces of” Products

For our first products with the “may contain traces” label for sesame, I went to Coop and bought a baguette and some corn-based crackers. My son ate the bread for his snack today without any reaction, so we’ll continue to do these very low-risk food experiments at home for the coming weeks and months. Hopefully, this trend will continue—as the test results indicate it should—so I can start cooking with peanuts, tree nuts and sesame again. In the meantime, I just tried the “gaufres au maïs” or corn waffles, and they taste like rice crackers made with popcorn. I may need to add these to my updated Swiss snack list

Coop's Baguette and Gaufres au Mais (corn waffles)

Coop’s Baguette and Gaufres au Maïs (corn waffles)

Bon week-end! Hope you’re having a great weekend. More recipes and news next week…