Friday, January 8, 2010

Girl Scout Cookies

It's that time of year.  I both dread it and look forward to it at the same time.  Probably because I can single-handedly consume a box of Thin Mint cookies in just a few days.  They are so good, but really...a whole box good?
This year, Abigail is in Daisy Scouts and will be selling cookies.  I admit that in the past, I've let her eat a few Thin Mint cookies.  And, it's not what you are thinking.  It wasn't because I didn't want to share, well maybe a little of that, but because according to the box label it is only one of two cookies that are safe for people with peanut/tree nut allergies. 

Here's what Little Brownie Bakers, the manufacturer of the Girl Scout Cookies in our region, says about food allergens:

On each of our cookie packages, we label for the top 8 allergens directly below the ingredient statement on the Nutrition Facts side panel. For peanuts and tree nuts, we have chosen to include cautionary labeling in the form of a "may contain" statement. This indicates that the product shares processing equipment with another product that contains peanuts or tree nuts.

If the allergen in concern is not listed below the ingredient statement, we are confident that the product is safe for consumption.

Since cookie time last year though, I've learned a lot. While the FDA has Allergen Advisory Labeling guidelines in place, a good portion of it is voluntary.  And according to a 2008 report by the FDA, cross-contamination can occur at almost any step of the manufacturing process.  "Cross-contact can occur due to allergens in raw ingredients or in processing aids, allergens in reworked product and allergen carry-over from the use of shared equipment. Such potential sources of unintentional allergen cross-contact exist regardless of the manufacturer's size or food product."

While a lot of food manufacturers do not have proper controls in place, a good many do.  By using dedicated facilities or production lines, they can prevent cross-contamination.  However, when I read a vague statement like the one above that "they are confident that the product is safe for consumption", I still question the product's safety.  Is it because they have a dedicated line or do they feel like they just do a good job cleaning the production line?  Part of me thinks that if Little Brownie Bakery is willing to go on record and make a statement like that then it must be okay.  Can you imagine what Legal would say if there was any question of safety at all?  I've contacted the company, and hopefully they will quantify their statement.

There's a whole other issue here though, and that's why does an organization like Girl Scouts not recognize the seriousness of food allergies and address the fact that out of 8 types of cookies, only 2 are safe for peanut/tree nut allergies when only 2 of them actually contain peanuts and none of them contain tree nuts.  Wouldn't you think that an organization the size of the Girl Scouts could require their cookie manufacturer to use dedicated lines so that there was no risk of cross-contamination for those cookies not containing peanuts/tree nuts?

I'm just thankful that Abigail is such a good sport.  She's willing to go out and sell cookies that she can't eat.  And, if it turns out that it's not safe for her to eat Thin Mints and Samoas, then she'll be okay eating a cookie that she can have.  Unfortunately, it happens all the time.

As for me, I've really got to show some restraint this year especially now that I'm advocating a healthier diet.  Luckily it's just one time a year....and's for a good cause!

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