One of the main problems that a lot of our customers at Happy Tummies have is reading food labels and understanding food labeling requirements.
In Australia currently, it's mandatory that foods containing the top 9 allergens have these identified on the pack. These include wheat, dairy, eggs, nuts, peanuts, soy, fish, shellfish and sesame. Sesame was just added this year and by next year it will also be mandatory to label lupin as an allergen as well.
The trouble is that labels are still hard to understand which leaves many of us calling manufacturers to get more information which is really time consuming. It's also a pain constantly reading every single label to try and find safe food for your family. At Happy Tummies, we've created a cool search function to save you time and I'll explain that to you later.
First here are my top tips on reading labels and a few tricky things explained:
Be familiar with all of the different names of allergens that food manufacturers might use. If you need some help with this, purchase relevant cards from Allergy & Anaphylaxis here
Read every label every single time you use it for food allergic individuals. Manufacturers change formulations from time to time and they may not update their packing to reflect this
Even if a product claims 'free from' on the pack, ensure you still read the ingredients label
Take care with imported foods with translated labels. Errors can happen in translation so if in doubt check with the manufacturer
Whether you decide that traces of allergens are okay in a product or not is a very personal decision. I recommend asking your allergist for advice here. These 'may contain' type statements are also not mandatory so just because a product does not have this on it, you cannot assume it will be safe if you do need to avoid traces. Some foods are worse for cross contamination too so your allergist may even advise that for foods like chocolate and ice cream to avoid traces, but for other foods traces are okay
Gluten free does not mean wheat free. This means something that's gluten free that contains wheat will not be safe for people with a wheat allergy. The reason is that some wheat is so processed that there is no gluten left, but the wheat remains. Gluten free lollies are good example of this where wheat glucose is used. The wheat glucose is gluten free as are the lollies, but they are not wheat free
Oats are not classified as gluten free in Australia, even if labelled that way. In other parts of the world oats free from contamination of wheat, rye and barley may be labeled as gluten free, but in Australia they are not considered gluten free. This means that if you have coeliac disease you must not eat oats without discussing it with your doctor first. Theses uncontaminated oats are however great for people with an allergy to wheat, rye or barley that can tolerate oats. You can get more details here from Coeliac Australia
Now one of the ways we've made it easier for you to find safe food for your family at Happy Tummies is to create a comprehensive allergen search, and we've gone a little further than the top 9 allergens. For the top 9, you can also search for products that are free of the allergen in the ingredients list, or free of traces of the allergens - you decide what's important.
Once you find the safe foods in a category for your family, it's just a matter of having a quick scan of the ingredients on those products which saves you looking at ingredients lists that are not safe. Watch the video I shot below as I search for safe food for my son Alex.
Note this allergy search function is available on mobile devices, but I'd recommend you do it on a laptop or desktop because you'll find it easier :-)
If you've got any tips or tricks to help other families about reading food labels let us know in the comments below. Lisa x
PS. Just in case you didn't realise, we're always happy to stock new items for families, even if we just get it in for you. We're also more than happy to chase up manufacturers and get information for you about traces in products - so if you need help, just ask!