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Allergen Labels Not Required on All Foods, Making it Tricky or Dangerous for Some Shoppers

Many of us grab lunch or dinner from the prepared foods section at the grocery store. It’s quick and convenient, but the I-Team learned some of the food there doesn’t have the same labeling requirements as packaged foods.

And if you’re allergic to any foods, this can get extremely tricky, even dangerous, as one mother recently learned.

Michelle Peralta’s 1-year-old son Mason recently had an allergic reaction after taking his first few bites of cheese pizza that Peralta bought from the prepared foods section at Whole Foods.

“He had hives all over his body,” said Peralta.

Mason is allergic to peanuts and eggs. And Peralta thinks, although she has no proof, that the pizza had been cross contaminated. She was upset that the pizza container didn’t have an allergen warning.

“Put stickers everywhere,” said Peralta. “I don’t think it’s that expensive to print out labels.” But Whole Foods did nothing wrong. Grocery stores have strict allergen warning requirements. But when you place an order for food to go — like a grocery deli-made sandwich or a hot slice of pizza – those containers require no allergen labels.

Now, most other items in grocery stores do require allergen labels, like on packaged foods. Even prepared foods, like refrigerated soup or salad sold in plastic containers, require allergen labels. In fact, it’s something that’s gotten Whole Foods into trouble.

This past December, the Food and Drug Administration sent a warning letter to the grocery giant, citing its failure to disclose allergens on 32 prepared foods products during the past year-and-a-half. Attorney Spencer Sheehan is suing them. He wants Whole Foods to clearly and consistently label its products.

“They failed to do this,” said Sheehan. “They put profits ahead of people. They decided to offer all these fresh foods without taking the time and investing the money to make sure all their prepared foods are labeled in a way to protect consumers’ health.”

A spokesperson for Whole Foods said it doesn’t comment on pending litigation. The company did respond to the FDA warning, saying: “Whole Foods Market takes food safety very seriously. We are working closely with the FDA to ensure all practices and procedures in our stores meet if not exceed food safety requirements. We remain committed to maintaining the highest quality standards in the industry.”

Whole Foods also said it places allergen warning labels at the counter where people order food like pizza, even though it’s not required to. The store where Peralta bought her pizza does have a warning label at the counter, but Peralta said she didn’t see it.

As for baby Mason, he was eventually okay, but only after an epinephrine injection. Peralta now knows to shop prepared foods at any grocery store with caution, and wants to warn others.

“He could have died,” said Peralta. “And some people may not be as lucky as we were. That’s what I want to prevent from happening.”


Source: NBC Los Angeles

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