So how important is ‘may contain’…
This is a big issue within the allergy community. So many products are labelled ‘may contain’, even when it’s clear that this isn’t the case. My personal favourite is the ‘may contain nuts’ sign on the fish counter in Waitrose. Truly absurd.
Of course everyone remembers Tesco going bonkers and labelling everything in sight as ‘may contain nuts’. This is a phrase often used by manufacturers, caterers and grocery outlets as a sort of ‘get out of jail free’ card to avoid having to tell us what’s in the food they are serving or selling. It takes the responsibility completely away from the seller, and solely back on the allergy sufferer – buyer beware if you will.
Of course, may contain, is a reasonable thing to say in some instances; such as where a product is made in a factory where nuts etc. are present. It’s a fair warning then; telling the customer that there is a small risk of cross contamination. This is very different from blanket ‘may contain’ statements. Cross contamination can happen, and some allergies are so serious that products that genuinely ‘may contain’ an allergen need to be labelled.
One of the questions is, of course, how much is dangerous? This is a question that haunts most allergies sufferers. And let’s be clear here – I mean allergy sufferers, not those who suffer from intolerances. Intolerances are uncomfortable and unpleasant – typically resulting in gastric reactions. But they are not life threatening. Allergies can be. Intolerances don’t lead to anaphylaxis, allergies can.
Recently a study carried out by Prof Clare Mills of the Institute of Inflammation and Repair at the University of Manchester sought to identify how much of an allergen was needed to trigger a reaction. Interesting stuff really. About 90% of food allergies are caused by milk, eggs, fish, crustacean, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans. Prof Mills, who lead the study, confirmed that the most sensitive responded to just 1.6-10.1mg of nut, peanut and celery, while 27.3mg of fish and 2.5g of shrimp were needed. This shows us one thing clearly – just a very small amount of is needed to trigger a nut, peanut or celery reaction in the most sensitive. It raises an interesting question – should labelling reflect this? Should nuts, celery and peanuts be in a different classification when it comes to labelling? I’m very much against the ‘may contain’ blanket – but wonder if there is a middle road that reflects just how dangerous a tiny amount of nuts, peanuts and celery can be. To make this work – do those of us with allergies need to understand where we are on the scale of reactions? I’ve had allergies all my life – nuts, peanuts, wheat, trees, grass, fur etc. I haven’t a clue where I sit on the scale of reactions though. None of the doctors I’ve seen have ever mentioned it - maybe it’s only those that are at risk of anaphylaxis that fall within the top 10%.
At the risk of complicating things further; perhaps two types of labelling are needed. A much more stringent one for nuts, for example. One thing is for certain – may contain must stop being a way of just covering a legal requirement – it needs to be a genuine flag of concern.
The article is here if you want to read it:
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