If you are dealing with food allergies, you've probably become quite familiar with the term “Safe Foods”. However, there is truly no definition of what a safe food is and each person has his or her own comfort level regarding what they consider to be safe.
The forum here at peanutallergy.com is often filled with questions and comments on brands of safe ice creams, safe restaurants and other “safe” items. How do we as a community determine what is and is not safe for ourselves and others?
Assuming that safe means a food item does not contain a specific allergen in question, one would think that it would be easy to determine what foods are safe for allergic individuals. Just read the food label. However, with the increase in food recalls and labeling laws not being 100% food allergy friendly—it is often quite difficult for those with food allergies to determine whether a food item is safe to consume or not.
The best case scenario is for food allergic individuals to eat foods that are prepared by themselves. Or in the case of young children—by their parents. Making your own food ensures that you are in control of what you make and how you make it.
When that is not possible, the next best step would be to purchase items from companies that specifically make allergen friendly foods. These companies often make their own products and in facilities that do not allow certain allergens within their manufacturing facility. Make sure to do your research. There are no laws governing labels like “allergen free”. Call the company, check out their website and ask others in the allergy community. The companies that really care about the community often have very strict manufacturing and testing guidelines in place.
Specialty allergen free foods can be quite costly. What can you do if cost is a consideration? Buy items with minimal ingredients and from larger companies that actually manufacturer their own food rather than using what is known as a co packer. Co packers are manufacturers that may make and package a product for several different companies. This could mean multiple allergens within the facility. A larger company often, though not always, has strict manufacturing and cleaning protocols in place and often times even allergen tests its lines.
Like allergen free companies, not all large manufacturers are created equal. You may need to call and ask what their manufacturing and cleaning processes are and whether they allergen test their lines. Be aware that these companies more than likely will have allergens in their facility. However, hopefully their manufacturing and cleaning protocols minimize the risk of any cross contamination.
With a little work and research, there are many safe options for food allergic individuals. As a community we need to keep in mind that “safe” has many different definitions. When in doubt, don't eat the food item and prepare something yourself. It's likely to be healthier anyway.