CSPI Files Sesame Labeling Regulatory Petition

We have 8 planets and 8 top allergens – that’s about to change!  Well, we’re hoping it will change and a fantastic organization called CSPI (the Center for Science in the Public Interest – a Washington, DC based non-profit health advocacy group) has taken a major lead in doing so.  No, Pluto isn’t coming back (at the moment) but CSPI and many other folks would love to see sesame added to FDA labeling requirements for allergens.

Food Label Example from
Food label example from a prior blog post

I’ve discussed labeling legalities on my blog in the past as well as specific examples of labeling woes, but to those that don’t live with a sesame allergy this may not seem like the exciting step it really is.  If we open the door to the “top 8” notion expanding, what else are we capable of changing?  

Background

My dear friend Jessica Almy is not only the founder and editor at Vegbooks.org, a site focusing on kid movies and literature reviews with a compassionate (vegan and vegetarian) lens,  she is Senior Nutrition Policy Counsel with CSPI.  Jessica is one of those people I say I want to be like when I grow up, she has even changed the way I think about food and I thought I was pretty entrenched after 6 years of being a food allergy mama.  Two of the campaigns she has worked on look at the use of icons that appeal to children to sell junk foods/candy (ex: Hello Kitty on just about everything, How to Train Your Dragon with candy “advergames”).  These are pressing issues – just yesterday my husband e-mailed me this article from the New York Times about the ubiquity of Disney’s Frozen to sell products to children.

In January 2013 Jessica connected me with Janna dePorter, a research associate at CSPI, about CSPI’s work on a petition for the FDA to get sesame labeling going.  I was able to reach out to my own networks so that Janna could speak with other great individuals that wrangle sesame allergies in their life.

cspi

The Petition

I’m used to keeping mum on things but here we are in November and I get to finally share that yesterday CSPI’s petition went up!  Read the press release here, and download the pdf of the actual petition here.

From the petition (internal citations omitted):

The sesame seed (Sesamum indicum) is an oilseed crop and edible seed that is used in many food and consumer products.  It is used in an increasing number of foods and might be listed in the ingredient list under an unfamiliar name, such as benne, benne seed, benniseed, gingelly, gingelly oil, gingelly seeds, gomasio, halvah, seed paste, seed oil, sesamol, sesamolina, sesamum indicum, sim sim, tahini, and teel or til.

This is part of the background research that Janna and others were involved with when they reached out to food allergy families – where and how does sesame, one of the top 10 allergens labeled for in Canada already, hide and endanger an at-risk population?  Sesame also hides under terms like “spices” or “natural flavorings” in food.

My statement in support of the petition is featured on page 13 as pictured below, I’ll also paste it in for easier reading but it gives a better idea of why I think this is such an important step:

Wordy as usual!
Wordy as usual!

September 21, 2014
H. W.
Las Vegas, Nevada
My daughter was diagnosed with multiple food allergies shortly after turning 1. She’d had reactions before the confirmation of her condition but it took time to isolate her triggers. She was initially allergic to peanut, tree nut, oat, sesame, corn, milk, egg, wheat, soy, and grape. This made cooking and shopping a challenge and it still is a challenge even though she did narrow her list after outgrowing a few allergies to peanut, tree nut, oat, and sesame. Having a “mainstream” allergy mixed with a “non-top-8” allergy makes a life of constant vigilance that much more challenging. You could say “just avoid the allergens” but when companies don’t have to disclose the presence of sesame or use the commonly understood name of sesame, things get tricky. 5+ years into our allergy journey I know how to pick up a product and hunt for the clues that tell me about the presence of something like sesame but even my food allergy mama sleuthing skills can’t see into the mind of a manufacturer that just lists “spices” as an ingredient. “Tahini,” or ground sesame paste, is another nebulous ingredient that I try to work on with my budding reader but which inhibits the ability of others to assist in keeping her safe. Which is to say that I may know that tahini equals sesame but a teacher or other parent may not know that. It really boils down to disclosure for our family – sesame is a fairly major allergen not being labeled for. No one is asking companies to stop using sesame in their products, just to let the consumer know that it is there. The precedent set by adding to labeling requirements will open the door for more transparency and safety for consumers in the United States. How do I teach my child to be responsible about her allergies if companies that make food products aren’t required to tell her the ingredients of their “spices” or that tahini lurks within. I distinctly remember buying tomato sauce and seeing that one variety had sesame. I was shocked and wondered if the absence of sesame on the other brands’ labels meant it was present and they didn’t feel obligated to tell anyone. The broader issue is not whether I’m going to walk out of the store with tomato sauce, it is that if we’re consenting to have food production so removed from the end user, we should be heard when we ask for assistance knowing whether we can safely provide a food product to our families.

What can you do?

Be sure to share the press release with others to raise awareness of non top 8 allergens.  You can even share your own story of dealing with sesame or another allergen that isn’t mandated for labeling.  More disclosure benefits all of us and may put companies on notice that they should take a step further than what is legally mandated already by FALCPA.

My daughter is reading labels as her reading skills improve, it is exciting and scary for me at the same time because she believes the things she reads (this goes back to the other work CSPI does about children and marketing) and relies on them.  She does know that the next step is calling the company or emailing them to find out about other allergens and manufacturing practices and that will still be our norm, but maybe things can change.

Keep sharing also your own stories about living with food allergies with people in your community.  Just as there are “teaching moments” when you spend time with a child, there are teachable moments in everyday conversation with others.  We may each only be one person but you never know how far a message can spread!

___

Edited to add: Here’s a link to Brian Heller’s Change.org petition CSPI’s filing references, if you’d like to show support that way!

Shopping at Costco for Food Allergy Families

People often ask if a Costco membership is worth it when a lot of what you’ll find in any store, let alone a membership based one, isn’t an option when you have food allergic individuals at home.  Produce and basics aside, I wanted to write about a few finds this past week at our Henderson Costco.  Be advised that these selections are specific to our Southwest region of the country and that no one paid me to write any of this though Happy Family and Luke’s were FABlogCon sponsors last year.

This post has been on my mind since I first wrote about Kirkland’s Ricemilk (here and here) but thank you to Sharon Wong from Nut Free Wok for encouraging me to get it done!  The photos are just from my phone so they are more illustrative and informative than pinterest-worthy.  As always, call companies to verify a food’s appropriateness for you.  I uploaded these files at full resolution so you can click on the images and peek at ingredient labels if you are interested in seeking a product out.

Corn Tortillas

Tortilla Land Tortillas
Tortilla Land Tortillas

When E outgrew her corn allergy but had not yet outgrown her wheat allergy, these were a great option.  I usually am not a fan of corn tortillas but you cook these up fresh and they are wonderful in recipes like enchiladas.  60 for $6.39, I’m not sure if they freeze well or not.

Tortilla Land Tortillas
Tortilla Land Tortillas

Kirkland Ricemilk

Kirkland Ricemilk
Kirkland Ricemilk

Read more about the ingredients here and about their stock status here for Kirkland Organic Ricemilk.  We use it almost exclusively even though milk is now technically a safe option for us.  Unlike many Ricemilks, it is not in a shared facility with nuts per my last communication with Costco corporate.  $13.99 for 12 containers with 4 cups in each.

Kirkland Ricemilk
Kirkland Ricemilk

Udi’s Granola

Udi's Granola (not safe for nut allergies)
Udi’s Granola (not safe for nut allergies)

We can’t have oats, peanuts, tree nuts, or sesame so this Granola isn’t an option but I include it here for my gluten free and vegan friends that may not be aware Costco is carrying products by Udi’s.  My favorite nut free and oat free granola is by Enjoy Life but I don’t know if they’ll break into Costco with anything other than Plentils for the time being.  $6.79.

Udi's Granola (not safe for nut allergies)
Udi’s Granola (not safe for nut allergies)

Luke’s MultiGrain & Seed Crackers – Chia Seed

Luke's Crackers
Luke’s Crackers

Luke’s crackers are pretty tasty and though my favorite of their products would have to be their chips (and even some of those have sesame), I love that an allergy aware company is featured at Costco.  This particular box consists of two large backs of the crackers (not snack packs like I assumed when I first purchased them) and the flavor is very neutral.  $7.99.

Luke's Crackers
Luke’s Crackers

Nutiva Coconut Oil

Nutiva Coconut Oil (Peanut Facility Warning)
Nutiva Coconut Oil (Peanut Facility Warning)

I am sharing Nutiva’s coconut oil in a cautionary way since they now carry a shared with peanut oil in the facility warning.  We haven’t bought it since but it may still be a safe option for some!  (Updated 12/1/14 – I found an announcement that some varieties now are made in a different facility.  View the article on Nutiva’s site to learn more.)

Peanut warning on Nutiva Coconut Oil
Peanut warning on Nutiva Coconut Oil

Krusteaz Gluten Free Brownie Mix

Krusteaz Gluten Free Brownie Mix
Krusteaz Gluten Free Brownie Mix

I purchased this for my sister in law, who is doesn’t eat wheat or gluten products, so I could make an easy treat considering we don’t stock gluten free flours the way we used to at home when E was allergic to wheat.  She really enjoyed baking with these mixes and liked the results.  Great price, but again, I didn’t buy these necessarily for my daughter so I don’t know what other factors may come into play ingredient-wise.  Just nice to see gluten free options for people!  $7.99.

Krusteaz Gluten Free Brownie Mix
Krusteaz Gluten Free Brownie Mix

Mamma Chia Chia Squeeze

Mamma Chia Chia Squeeze
Mamma Chia Chia Squeeze

When I was a kid we didn’t eat anything out of a pouch. . .well, I guess except for drinking Capri-Sun “juice.”  But I digress.  My kids love all things pouch based it seems and Costco is in tune with that.  $11.99.

Mamma Chia
Mamma Chia

Go Go Squeez

Go Go Squeez
Go Go Squeez

These applesauce pouches are E and R’s favorite – my daughter even wrote the company a letter (with her Auntie’s help) to thank them for being nut free.  You may think, of course applesauce is nut free, but it is nice to see Go Go Squeez taking pride in that.  $10.99.

Go Go Squeez Applesauces
Go Go Squeez Applesauces

Happy Family Fruit and Veggie Twists

Happy Family Pouches
Happy Family Pouches

Happy Family also has a line of fruit sauce pouches but crazily these were stacked right next to the powdered peanut butter in the store (just an observation, I know everything is sealed) and they have this little note on them saying your purchase supports “Operation Peanut Butter.”  I looked into it and it is actually a program to help with starvation around the world in children with peanut butter enriched with other ingredients.  Every purchase supports this project.  You can watch a video clip from Happy Family about Operation Peanut Butter here.  I personally would like to know more about the way they are approaching this program but their hearts are in the right place and it is not an implication regarding the manufacture of these pouches themselves.  I just was surprised by the new reference on the label and looked into it a bit.

Happy Family Fruit and Veggie Twists
Happy Family Fruit and Veggie Twists

Essential Bakery Seeded Gluten Free Bread

Essential Bakery Seeded Gluten Free Bread
Essential Bakery Seeded Gluten Free Bread

We stumbled upon this bread a while back and bought some to try when my sister in law visited.  No nuts, gluten, dairy or soy!  It is also delicious toasted or untoasted so do check it out.  $7.99 for two sizable loaves of yummy gluten free bread is a great deal too.

Essential Bakery Seeded Gluten Free Bread
Essential Bakery Seeded Gluten Free Bread

 Stretch Island Fruit Leathers

Stretch Island Fruit Leathers
Stretch Island Fruit Leathers

$10.59 for 48 fruit leathers that sell at supermarket checkouts for 50 cents apiece is a substantial deal (22 cents apiece, in fact).  All of these fruit leathers are natural and make for a good purse/diaper bag emergency snack.

Stretch Island Fruit Leathers
Stretch Island Fruit Leathers

Yummy Earth Fruit Snacks

Yummy Earth Fruit Snacks
Yummy Earth Fruit Snacks

40 fruit snacks from one of our favorite companies, Yummy Earth!  These are even gelatin free.  I like to buy things like this for my daughter’s class so they have safe treats on hand in case a student forgets a snack at home.

Yummy Earth Fruit Snacks
Yummy Earth Fruit Snacks

Jelly Belly Halloween Mix (Peanut Free)

Jelly Belly Halloween Mix (Peanut Free)
Jelly Belly Halloween Mix (Peanut Free)

100 individual bags of Jelly Belly jelly beans for $9.79 – I bought these for my daughter’s school Trunk or Treat so they could pass out peanut free options.  Please confirm that these are safe for other allergies of course.

Jelly Belly Halloween Mix (Peanut Free)
Jelly Belly Halloween Mix (Peanut Free)

Annie’s Crackers

Annie's Crackers
Annie’s Crackers

These are wheat based crackers but another option for in class snacks at $11.89.  They do have soy and milk alerts in addition to wheat, I am glad for the absence of oats on these.

Annie's Crackers
Annie’s Crackers

Kirkland Tortilla Chips

Kirkland Tortilla Chips
Kirkland Tortilla Chips

We buy the non-organic Kirkland corn chips for a very good reason – the Organic variety has a nut warning.  Click here to see the front and back of the Organic variety.  We once grabbed the wrong one by accident so I thought I’d mention it.  $4.99.

Kirkland Tortilla Strips (Choose the Non-Organic Variety to Avoid a Nut Warning)
Kirkland Tortilla Strips (Choose the Non-Organic Variety to Avoid a Nut Warning)

Kettle Potato Chips (Kirkland)

Kettle Potato Chips (Kirkland)
Kettle Potato Chips (Kirkland)

$4.79 for a bag of potato chips bigger than your head can’t be beat.  I like to eat these with salsa which I know makes me weird but I don’t mind.

Kettle Potato Chips (Kirkland)
Kettle Potato Chips (Kirkland)

Honest Company Shampoo

Honest Company Shampoo
Honest Company Shampoo

I haven’t purchased this shampoo but the label looks promising.  Have any of you tried it?  $14.99 is spendy for me but it might be a good option given the ingredient list.

Honest Company Shampoo
Honest Company Shampoo

Allergy Medicine

Allergy Medicine
Allergy Medicine

I have yet to fill an epinephrine prescription at Costco (see also: my posts about EpiPen and Auvi-Q two packs and expiration dates) but we do get Zyrtec, Claritin, and Benadryl there for time to time.

And on an amusing note…

I spotted this cart at checkout – when we entered the store Costco had a display for singing Olaf dolls.  R wanted one and I said no but a lot of parents had their kids playing with them in their carts so it was funny to see how many ended up on the “re-stock” pile.  Poor Olaf!  Don’t worry, some grandparent is going to buy you anyway so you can sing for the whole family at home. . .

Discarded Olaf Dolls
Discarded Olaf Dolls

So!  I hope this was of interest – I’d love to know what food allergy friendly finds you have at your local Costco because I’m a Costco nerd (Exhibit A).

____

Edited 10/27/14 to add:  A reader (thank you, Mary!) communicated to me that Costco will take otherwise safe candy and mix it in with unsafe (for, say, nut allergy) candy to package for Halloween so a trick or treater wouldn’t actually know if their usual brand was safe.  They informed me they’d tried to work with Costco on the issue but they would not budge.  I did want to share that warning as it was not something I’d thought about before.  They also brought up the elephant in the room, so to speak, about samples and cooking in the aisles for samples that involve nut products or other allergens.  There are signs stating that there are allergy warnings but we all know children don’t and can’t sometimes read those signs so parents of food allergic children need to pay special attention.  Sample distributors will ask a child to get their parent’s permission before trying food but I’ve also had them offer my child something while I was standing there and make no statement about allergies.  Of course there is also the risk of a child grabbing something in the rush of people to get a sample and the fact that the reps don’t usually have more information about a product than what is displayed on their packaging.  So my recommendation of Costco comes with caveats, however, you can certainly find a lot of good options from among the multiple aisles of mixed nuts.  

Is Costco’s Kirkland Organic Rice Milk Being Discontinued?

Costco Ricemilk

One of my most read posts on the blog is actually about Kirkland Signature (aka Costco’s store brand) Organic Rice Milk.  I often get comments asking about it but recently there’s been an uptick in discussion online about whether the item is on the “pending/delete list.”

I called Costco‘s main number (1-800-774-02678, then press zero to speak to a representative) today to find out why people might be getting this information.

First, the good news Las Vegas and most around the country: Kirkland Ricemilk is in stock in all Vegas area stores and won’t be deleted.  There are no notes about deletion and there is nothing wrong with any product batches (there was speculation that if there was an item deletion it was temporary and related to quality control).

The bad news for those of you being told of deletions on a local level:  Stores that do not experience sales levels to justify carrying the product may very well be ceasing to carry Ricemilk.  If you are in one of these areas, call Costco and let them know how important the product is to you and your family.  I made sure to let them know on the phone that Costco is important to many food allergy families.  In fact, I’ve heard Costco will begin to carry Enjoy Life Foods products sometime in the next months so the food allergy epidemic has to be on the company’s radar.  You can also see about Costco Business delivery in your area.

Hopefully this information is helpful, I’ve had great luck calling Costco corporate in the past and this time was no exception.  I even shared a laugh about my Costco-nerd status to the representative when I said I hadn’t seen the ending of the price change at all on Ricemilk (which is usually a signal of an item being deleted from stock lists).

Thank you so much to readers and commenters that alerted me to their concerns.  Blogging and social media matter, it is part of why I’m so excited to be helping to plan the First Food Allergy Bloggers Conference taking place in Las Vegas next month.

On the subject of Costco, I was thinking it would be great to create a resource of food allergy friendly finds at their stores – I know I buy safe items with good labeling whenever I see them in our local warehouse.  Feel free to comment about safe options for your family and I will try to include some of them.

Update (December 2013):  A helpful commenter, Steven, found out the following (I’ve posted his comment here so it is easy to find and I certainly feel your pain if you’re in one of the regions listed below):

“After further email conversation with costcocare@costco.com I’ve learned that Kirkland Signature Organic Rice Milk will no longer be stocked at Costco Warehouse stores in the Southeast, Northeast, and Midwest regions. Too, Costco Business Delivery in those regions is discontinuing delivery of the product once current stock is depleted. It appears then that only the Northwest, Southwest, and Texas regions will continue to carry the milk. (Yep, Texas is its own region). So, if you live East of the Rockies—excepting Texas—it’s time to find an alternative.”

Update (October 2015): Las Vegas Costco no longer stocks the Kirkland Ricemilk.  Sad faces all around.  Anyone else in the Western states experiencing this?

Food Allergy Friendly Family Meal Ideas

On a whim, I looked at my meal logging on My Fitness Pal to see how what we really eat compares to the food options I’ve blogged about and thought I’d share!  The meals we return to again and again have ingredients that are versatile so we keep them on hand and many of them are what we call our own version of “fast food.”  Not all the links below are to recipes on this site, some are on other sites or are linked to products we buy for convenience.

As with any food option, please make sure they suit your comfort level.  I, for example, will buy things for our family that are in a shared facility with, say, eggs or soy, but not tree nuts or peanuts.  Recently E has grown out of her milk allergy and we’re working on some other food challenges but aside from feeding the kids yogurt and or cheese, I haven’t gone back to dairy.  I always told myself that I’d go back in a heartbeat but then as the months wore on I realized that my excuse for eating dairy in the face of animal cruelty implications was that it would be “too hard” to stop.  When I stopped eating dairy for my daughter’s sake I realized a vegan (versus a vegetarian) diet involved many more flavors and options than I thought.

If anything jumps out as something you’d like a recipe for, please let me know in the comments.  We were able to start eating corn again this past summer but aside from tortillas, tostadas, or corn itself, many of these options are still corn free.  We also were able to re-introduce tomatoes and grapes in the past year, much to my relief.  You can also check out the What We Eat page for other recipes I’ve posted about.

Baked Potatoes with Mushrooms and Onions

IMG_2285

Bean Burgers on Rice Bread (or Tapioca Dinner Rolls) with Ketchup and other fixings

Brussels Sprouts or Asparagus (roasted) with Mushrooms (we used Portabella Mushroom Caps a few times) and Rice or Quinoa

Cauliflower “Popcorn” with Roasted Vegetables and Wild Rice

Cereal or Granola and Rice Milk

Chickpea UnTuna Salad (here’s a recipe I started with but of course leave out the nuts)

Green Lentils, Rice, and Plain Coconut Milk Yogurt

Grilled Cheese (Daiya) on Rice Bread

Masala Dosas with Coconut Milk Yogurt

Misto alla Griglia with Wild Rice

Nachos with Daiya and Pinto Beans

Pakoras with Quinoa and Vegetables

Persian Lima Bean Rice with Tomato Onion Salad (I make a healthier version of both these days with a lot less oil)

Quinoa and Roasted Asparagus or Corn

Salad (Quinoa with Cilantro Lime Dressing or with Brown Rice Couscous)

Saffron Rice with Beans and Baked Yams

Shepherd’s Pie with Fresh Cranberry Sauce

(Baked) Spaghetti Squash with Marinara Sauce (I’ve cut the oil and sugar in this recipe with great results)

Spinach and Mushroom Risotto

Steamed Vegetables and Rice or Quinoa and Marinara Sauce

Steamed Artichokes with Roasted Onions and Quinoa with Balsamic Vinegar

Sunshine Burgers (or Quinoa Burgers) and Alphatots (or Oven Fries)

IMG_1877

Tabbouli with Falafel and Bean Dip

Tostadas topped with Refried Beans, Guacamole, Salsa, Lettuce, and Tomatoes

Wild Rice (or Quinoa) and Oven Roasted Vegetables with Balsamic Vinagarette

What are some of your family’s “fast” dinner options?