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May Contain Arsenic!

Updated: Apr 25, 2020

This product may contain arsenic! It’s how I like to compare a may contain nut warning. If it sounds rather over the top then please bear with me whilst I explain my reasoning.

The may contain nut warning debate continues daily on allergy support internet forums and it’s something where I have personally been very involved in. Campaigning against its over use. However it’s also very important to know that recent studies confirmed 1 in 4 products labelled as may contain did contain traces and that the EU food Allergen labelling law updated in December 2014 does not force companies to label for may contain traces, only the actual allergen present in the ingredients and its entirely up to the manufacturer if they label or not, crazy but true.

There in lies the debate. I know of parents and allergic individuals whom knowingly ignore may contain nuts statements and give their child these foods and I am also aware of parents, like me, whom choose not to give them.

The dreaded warning appears on so many items from chocolate (I would automatically think high risk) to bottles of fizzy water (are you kidding me !!??!!). Some supermarkets are notorious for covering their backsides by labelling it on products with no confirmed risk just because they can’t be bothered to make the supply chain accountable at each stage of manufacturing. A leading supermarket have now and in the past been one of the main culprits for labelling may contains nuts. Another supermarket uses extremely irritating ‘may contain allergens statement’….my husband once stormed out of  a store  when they couldn’t even begin to explain what ‘allergen’ may have contaminated their products.

Two parents of kids with food allergies, whom I class as good friends of mine having communicated with, sometimes daily over the last 4 years and whom I trust for allergy advice, started a petition against a leading supermarket over the use of the may contain warnings on their products in 2014.  We ‘nutty mums & dads’ supported  them and the petition gained worldwide media attention in 2014. BBC news, The Independent, The Times, BBC radio and many other media outlets covered the story for us. The supermarket eventually backed down on their initial denial that they were over using statements and admitted they had over labelled. Some 500 products have allegedly been changed or are due to be changed…watch this space!

You are probably thinking that why, if I know labelling is over used, and placed on the most ridiculous of items, do I continue to avoid purchasing these products for my daughter? I see it as a game of roulette. You may eat a product that says may contain traces 100 times and have no reaction, but may have a serious allergic reaction on the 101st time! Most companies are not like the ones I have previously mentioned and only label because there is a risk, it may be a minimal risk but its a risk nonetheless.  In many instances the manufacturing line is shared with products that are nutty. The company then cleans the line and machinery down but the first 100 products going through may contain traces of nutty residue. A tragic death recently of a 22 year old young man in America who died following the consumption of a may contain nut chocolate he had eaten previously shows us the risk is real and present. Another account I read, only last summer, was a young boy who had a major reaction to a may contain nut ice lolly!

My daughters consultant interestingly in the last three years has gone from advising us to eat may contains to strongly advising not to, I suspect he’s dealt with too many hospital admissions from Anaphlylaxis following may contain products being consumed. What I find worrying is the amount of allergy specialists who still advise their patients to consume may contain nuts products. How much do these specialists actually know about food manufacturing processes?

This is where I like comparing may contain nuts to poison. Would you eat a product that says ‘may contain traces of arsenic?’,  it’s very unlikely, and yet the outcome for both could be death. Sadly unless EU laws change and companies are forced to account for where the trace risk may be and to only label where it is completely necessary, many families will be more limited on the food choices they have. In saying that I can, hand on heart, say we only have about 5 food products now that we haven’t been able to replace with safe ‘no nut alternatives’. It’s taken 4 years and a lot of research and label reading but it’s been worth it.

For the future I hope things continue to improve around may contain labelling laws and that leading charities help campaign for improvement, and I can only hope that I have educated my daughter for her future, a future avoiding may contain traces of arsenic.

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