Thursday, September 3, 2009

Bad News from ConAgra Foods

I received a very disturbing e-mail today.  In a previous post, I wrote that I was in the process of contacting major food manufacturers regarding their product labeling.  By law, food manufacturers must include a "Contains" statement if their product has any of the top 8 food allergens in the ingredients.  They do not have to include a statement regarding whether their product is manufactured in a facility or on the same equipment with a product that contains these allergens.  Given the risk of cross-contamination, people with severe food allergies should not consume foods processed in either of these conditions.

One of the companies I contacted was ConAgra Foods.  It's a huge conglomerate of highly popular, highly consumed brands.  The list of their brands is too long to include them all, but here are a few:
    • Chef Boyardee
    • Healthy Choice
    • Kid Cuisine
    • Hunt's
    • Van Camp's
    • Orville Redenbacher's
    • Marie Callender's
    • Banquet
We really try hard to avoid all foods with high fructose corn syrup, trans fats, partially hydrogenated oils, artificial sweeteners or high sodium content.  This eliminates a lot of their food from our shopping list.  However, we do still purchase quite a few of the ConAgra products.

I received a response from ConAgra today regarding my inquiry into their labeling policy.  Here it is:

Thank you for your request for more information about the ingredients in our products.

We comply with Federal regulations for allergen labeling.  These regulations require all major food allergens to be listed in plain language on the ingredient list, and/or be noted in plain language in a 'Contains' statement appearing just after the ingredient list. For consistency, ConAgra Foods always uses the 'Contains' statement. The allergens we list will include any of the eight major food allergens that are used in ConAgra Foods products. The major food allergens as defined by regulation are Crustacean Shellfish, Egg, Fish, Milk, Peanut, Soy, Tree Nuts, and Wheat.

Allergenic ingredients will be listed in the ingredient statement and will be noted in the Contains statement if they are included in flavorings or spice mixes. Please keep in mind that product formulas do change occasionally, so it is important to read the ingredient statement each time you purchase the product.

ConAgra Foods would like to help you with this request to the best of our ability. However, because the information you have requested is considered to be proprietary and a trade secret of ConAgra Foods, we are unable to supply this information.

If you have any allergen concerns outside of the Top 8 Food Allergens, we recommend you do not consume the product and consult your physician.

We appreciate your patronage and value our consumers.  We hope you will continue to enjoy our line of quality food.

Proprietary information, trade secret....really???  You can't tell your allergic consumers if the food they are eating is safe??  I understand that ConAgra is a really big company and that their food is probably manufactured in facilities around the world.  I also understand that it would take tremendous effort to document every food manufacturered on every line in every one of their facilities and then coordinate their package labeling to reflect their processes (although other manufacturers do).  Why not just say that?  How is telling a consumer with a peanut allergy that the food they are eating was made with equipment also used to make a product containing peanuts a violation of a trade secret?  I feel one of my infamous "soap boxes" coming!  Is it possible to boycott this company and not purchase any of their brands?  I'm about to find out!  Poor Abigail, it was a really big treat for her to be able to have a "fast meal", i.e., Kid Cuisine.

Follow up to Post:   I had someone recommend Ian's as an alternative to Kid Cuisine.  I went on their website, and they do have a very healthy, nut free kids meal.  It doesn't come cheap though.


Paul said...

go get 'em - that is an excuse not a reason.

U Paul

Sharon said...

Just found your blog searching for info on Cascadian Farms. My son has milk, egg, peanut and mustard allergies and we, too, found ConAgra to be FAR from helpful. It's so frustrating to eliminate so many labels from consideration because a manufacturer is unwillingly to disclose their labelling practices!

Mom with a Mission said...

Thanks for taking a second to comment. I love to hear from other parents.

Cascadian Farms is a General Mills brand. According to General Mills, they include the allergen in their "Contains" statement if there is a chance of cross-contamination. I've included their response in another post. Click on General Mills to the right of my blog under Labels.

Thanks again. Good luck with your searches.

Unknown said...

I just came across your blog today and really appreciate the efforts you go through to protect your daughter and to inform others of peanut safe and un-safe products and companies. This statement from ConAgra is frightening. As for peanut free frozen kids meals, I don't know if you've looked into Amy's brand frozen foods, but they're all peanut free (the company does make food with tree nuts though). They're all organic and without added junk, and they have three fun and healthy kids meals - all their foods (that I've tried so far) are delicious.