Wednesday, August 19, 2009

So Close, and yet So Far

Peanut-Free Snacks!

This is the sign that greeted me last night when I walked into the local grocery store. Hallelujah! Along with all of the Back to School binders and pens and backpacks, here were some school-safe snacks for parents to pick up as well. I wandered over to check out the stash.

Large packs of Mars bars, Tootsie Rolls, Wonka candy, and Dare Bear Paws all stared at me with smiling "No Peanut" symbols. But then, what was that? There's some Cadbury boxes on the shelf. Has Cadbury finally joined the ranks of companies offering peanut-free lines? Is that a Caramilk package I see?

I went in for a closer look. Yes, it was a Caramilk package. I eagerly turned it over, ready to scan through the ingredient list for the may contain warning, newly free of peanuts.

Nope. There it was in bold lettering - may contain peanuts, tree nuts ... Then I saw the Mr. Big package next to it.

Now I knew there was a problem. One of the main ingredients in a Mr Big bar is peanuts. Read the label - there it is. Mind you, the may contain warning only listed "tree nuts", but up just one line from it was the word "peanuts". I grabbed a bag of both and walked to the nearest cashier.

"Is there a Duty Manager I could talk with about the Peanut Free section?", I asked. Now, I know that a 6'4, 350-lb man coming up to you late at night may seem intimidating, so I smiled and made sure to stand a "safe" distance from her. After a second-take and a little blink, she called upstairs and shortly thereafter, the night manager came downstairs.

"First off, thank you for the peanut-free section," I started (It's always good to start and end with praise, sandwiching the concern in the middle - Management 101). "But I noticed there are a few things in the section that contain nuts."

"Oh? Well my understanding is that it's only the one wall that is peanut-free, she replied."

Wait, what? - that part was thankfully only in my head - "Ok, but couldn't that be a bit confusing?", I asked as we walked towards the small corner at the store entrance.

She looked over the layout which was "only supposed" to be peanut-free, and nodded in approval. "Yep, this is the side."

This side mostly contained cookies. The candy bars behind me were apparently a mixed bag of nut and no-nut treats and separated from the safe snacks only by a small block of drink boxes.

"Ok," I calmly retorted, "but again, couldn't this layout be confusing?" I then turned to the Cadbury boxes and pulled out another bag (I still held mine) for her to read the label. "See, it says 'peanuts' right here. If someone picked up one of these, thinking they're peanut-free - because it's in the 'peanut-free' section - and gave it to their child for lunch, and then that child ate it while sitting next to my airborne-allergic son, that would be enough to send him to the emergency room."

"Oh, but ... Oh!" Her eyes went wide as the lights came on, and she grabbed the 'peanut-free' sign and moved it next to the end-cap of the side with the cookies. "I'll get the Grocery department to change this for tomorrow," she apologized (it was almost closing time). "The last thing we want is to send a child to the hospital."

She then picked up one of each bag of candy to check the ingredients. We then spent a few minutes reading the backs of the packages together, discussing shared manufacturing lines and differing label laws for Canada and other countries. She then figured out which ones would need to be moved from the section to make the whole corner "peanut-free" rather than one side of the shared shelving unit. I thanked her and then went deeper into the store to find the oil that I originally went there to buy (100% Vegetable Oil; Ingredients: canola and/or soybean oil).

For those of you pissed off that the food police are at it again, let me say that we're not trying to remove all peanut-containing products, or asking manufacturers to change recipes for a minority of consumers that can't eat their products anyway. We're only trying to make it easier for all consumers to make informed decisions. Not everyone is as used to reading the labels so carefully as the parent of a food-allergic child.

Allergy awareness happens at all times of the day, in all places. My wife or I will probably drop in later this afternoon to check on the section again.


  1. Hi there,

    I came across your site in my search for information on the new Caramilk labels. I just wanted to send a small note of encouragement: I'm a 28 year-old Canadian and I've had a severe peanut&nut allergy all my life. It's second nature to me - I never think of myself as any different from anyone else and I've certainly never been teased or ostracized in any way.

    I'm sure it seems hard for you now, but know that he won't know any different. If I said to you "there's a food that you can't eat because it makes you violently ill and you might die, but trust me, you're really missing out", would you want to eat it? Do you want to eat the gross things they eat on fear factor? Of course not! I really do not feel like I'm missing out. My boyfriend had no problem giving up peanut products and bakes for me from scratch, and I was recently at a party where the host (a good friend of mine) informed me that he had bought new handsoap for his bathroom because the stuff he had had almond oil in it and he wanted me to feel comfortable. I'm fortunate that I get to see these wonderful sides of people - sides I may never have seen without the allergy. It's not all bad!

    I hope that your son stays safe, and that he feels as 'normalized' as I did (and do!). There are some silver linings, and it might not be as bad from his point of view as from yours.

    Best of luck,

  2. Thanks for the encouragement!

    While there are bad days where you feel like nobody gets it, we are EXTREMELY thankful for those who completely understand. Their words (and yours here too) and extra effort that they put it to include Liam and his brothers in some activity mean so very much - to us as well as him.

    Thank you again for your encouraging words.