The Whole Foods Allergy Cookbook

200 Gourmet and Homestyle Recipes for the Food Allergic Family

allergy cookbook

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Pandora's Box

Dear readers:

I understand your concerns over cross contamination. I've done a lot of research on the matter of cooking oils, and here's the bad news: all vegetable oils, except for some brands of olive oil, are bottled in facilities that also bottle nut oils. Yes, that's right, all oils. Call the Allergy Grocer, and they'll tell you the same. If you call around to the various oil manufacturers, they'll reveal this horrible truth. Spectrum just happens to declare it. Most companies don't. Even California Rice Bran Oil, which is often recommended as a risk-free oil bottles along with nut oils. If you follow this to its ultimate conclusion, this means that even allergen-free products made in dedicated allergen-free facilities still often contain oil, and if they do, that oil was bottled in a facility with nut oil. So if you're eating an allergen-free cookie that contains canola oil, or safflower oil, or any other type of oil, that canola oil or safflower oil was bought from another manufacturer where they bottled it along with nut oils. And I'm sure I'll get an angry email about this calling me a spoiler, but I'm telling the truth, no oil (except for olive), and no product made with oil is 100% risk-free. Dedicated allergen-free foods are a wonderful thing, but they don't have to declare anything about the manufacturing practices of their raw ingredients.

I don't mean to be an alarmist here. Truly, you could take this info and it might make you never want to eat again, considering that vegetable oil is used in all restaurants, and most prepackaged products on the market. But there is some good news.

The good news is that some oil and shortening manufacturers practice extremely strict manufacturing practices where they flush the lines. You can make yourself a lot more secure by educating yourself about which brands practice GMP (good manufacturing practices) and HACCP (hazards and critical analysis control points) as well as finding allergen-free dedicated plants and dedicated lines.

Again, though Spectrum (please bare with me to the end of this) does list a disclaimer, if you call them or go to their website, they'll tell you "Spectrum has never had an allergy problem arise from the use of its oils. However, some of our oils do share equipment with that which has been used to process nut oils". Additionally, they will tell you that though they bottle several nut oils, that these oils come to them already pressed, ready to be bottled, meaning that the actual nut or fiber from the nut is not present in their manufacturing plant (meaning the peanut or nut proteins are not present in the plant, just the oil). The oils do share an immediate finishing line and filler with their flaxseed oil. From Spectrum: "To prevent any cross contamination, Spectrum thoroughly flushes the filling lines between the bottling of our different types of oils. In addition, we also flush many pounds of the new oil to be bottled through the lines and filler before actually bottling the new oil".

California Rice Bran Oil has the same flushing practices. I, for one, feel much safer with a company like Spectrum or California Rice Bran Oil that has addressed the issue, and gone to the effort to take huge precautions to avoid cross-contamination than one who hasn't even bothered to mention the disclaimer on their label. Because again, all these oil manufacturers are bottling in facilities with nut oils, and they always have. My hunch is that the manufacturers who list the warning may in fact be a safer bet than the ones that don't. For example, a large company that uses shared lines but has allergen policies, and HACCP procedures in place (which most large companies do) may in fact be safer than a small company using dedicated lines. And FYI, Spectrum is not a small company at all, they are owned by Hain Celestial.

And no, my son does not have a peanut or a tree nut allergy. He has a dairy allergy (and used to have a soy allergy, which he has outgrown). He has never been exposed to either peanuts or tree nuts, and thus has never had the protein introduced, thereby creating the allergy. I have been very careful to keep him away from peanuts and tree-nuts, because as I'm sure you know as other food allergy parents, the child must be exposed at least once to the allergen for the immune system to create the antibodies against the offending allergen. I have purposefully kept my sons away from peanuts and tree-nuts so that they will not develop either allergy. My son Lennon is a hyper-allergic individual, and I avoid peanuts, tree-nuts, and shellfish like the plague.

About Sponsorship:

I was not sponsored by Spectrum when I wrote my cookbook. But I did use Spectrum products. At that time, there was no mention of bottling along with nut and peanut oils on their labels. I used their oils, because I and my publisher thought they had the lowest risk of cross-contamination due to their strict cleansing practices (which i still believe to be true). Again, they go so far as to say on their website:

"Spectrum has never had an allergy problem arise from the use of its oils."

After my book came out, they wished to sponsor me. But labels have changed in the past year. And due to this, I have been hesitant to recommend any of their products but the Organic All Vegetable Shortening. The reason I have continued to use this shortening in my recipes is because it is the only soy-free, dairy-free, tree nut-free, peanut-free shortening on the market (that I have found). I have been told on repeated occasions that it is manufactured and also packaged in Columbia, not in the US in the bottling plant with the Nut Oils. I was last told this in May, 06. However, they can not promise that it is 100% risk free (as nobody really can). When I called Hain Celestial again today, they wouldn't give me any info at all, saying that consumer relations is not privy to information about where a product is packaged, and that they will not guarantee that it's risk free. Smart for them, but extremely frustrating for all of us. I wish I could find just one vegetable oil or shortening product that was 100% risk free of every possible allergen, but I can't make that promise, because nobody can make it to me. So ultimately, it's up to every individual to call manufactures on their own (as I've said many times before), to ask about the GMP, and HACCP....

I am trying to help you, not harm you. Only you know what your own comfort level is, and how severe your or your loved one's allergy is. Not to mention the fact that manufacturing practices change frequently, sometimes on a weekly basis. So even if I know something this week, I won't know if it's true next week.

I think the most important thing to do is to try to be educated. Learn these manufacturing terms. But most importantly, make sure you always have epi-pens, and that whomever is taking care of your child has epi-pens, and truly knows how to use them. Because there is no way to live a completely risk-free life, but we can be prepared, if the risk suddenly presents itself.


  • At 6:12 PM, Blogger Nancy said…

    Hi Cybele,

    Two hours of research and nada. I love a challenge but this one is insurmountable.

    I learned that a test is being developed for food producers to detect miniscule amounts of peanut proteins in their processed foods.

    I bought some Carapelli olive oil from Walmart. On the label it says "Extra light in taste olive oil. Best for Sauteing and Baking" and it doesn't seem to have any flavor at all. I don't see any warning on the label.

    Other than that, I guess it's time for peanut-allergic people to organize and pressure a particular company to go completely allergen-free.


  • At 2:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Ummmm...not to be blunt, but your information is once again, quite misleading and highly inaccurate.

    To state that the oils used in processed goods (such as EnjoyLife Bars and cookies) carry the same cross-contamination risks as oils that are bottled in the SAME facility as Peanut and tree nut oils is just flatly ignorant.

    Most oil manufacturers produce one oil, such as Safflower oil. Since they produce one oil, obviously they are not subject to cross contamination risks. They sell their oils, in bulk, to retailers, not individual consumers. The retailers are either food processors, or oil processors. The food processors, Like ENJOYLIFE foods, use the oil to make products. The oil processors, either further process the oil, or bottle it in convenient bottles for consumers (like Spectrum). Individual consumers cannot buy oils directly from the oil manufacturer, unless you are willing to purchase huge quantities. Manufacturers obviously want to buy in bulk, so they are able to get uncontaiminated oils.

    I would beg you to please stop lying to people on this site in order to protect and promote your own interests. You are dealing with severe medical ramifications. And possible legal. But unfortunately, I don't think you are able to see a bigger picture. Perspective. It is something that just cannot be taught.

    By the way, for anyone else who is reading this CRISCO's Canola oil is NEVER in a facility with other Peanut or Tree Nuts. I'll give you a hint for another - Mrs. Brady.

  • At 3:28 PM, Blogger Cybele Pascal said…

    Dear Anonymous:

    Why would I lie to people? Why would I intentionally give misinformation? To what end? And what interests do you mean? You've got me all wrong. You seem to have some image of me as a self-promotion monster, and are extremely hostile in your comments. Do you honestly think that's why I post here? Again, I am constantly encouraging people to call manufacturers for themselves, to check for themselves, to be their own advocates. I appreciate your feedback, but I don't appreciate the way you communicate. You seem to let your temper get the better of you. I'd really appreciate if you tried to discuss these issues rationally, without making it an attack. My intention is to help people, to share information, but I never claimed to be a medical expert, I am the mother of a child with food allergies and a cookbook author. I make recipes and share whatever information I've gleened along the way. If you're right about that Crisco Canola oil, great! I will call and ask. In my search these past months, nobody has ever suggested it. I even made an appeal for people to reccommend oil products on this site, but nobody could come up with any. I've called various allergy product sellers, and also came up empty. Maybe you've finally offered the answer. Is it also manufactured and bottled in a soy-free, dairy-free facility? And what does Mrs. Brady mean?

  • At 3:37 PM, Anonymous Katy said…

    This is not a suggestion, because I am not a professional, but I do know that my brother, who has a severe nut allergy, has never had a problem with Crisco's Canola oil. Just something you could look into if you are interested.

    Thanks for all of your hard work!

    Dear Anonymous:
    Mrs. Pascal is doing the best she can, with the information she has, and I don't see how you can say she is "lying in order to protect and promote your own interests"...she has given me and my family so many more options, and I applaud her for her efforts. And if you have a problem with the way she runs this site, I think you could find a more productive way of expressing it.

  • At 6:46 PM, Blogger disneys_belle said…

    Ah, one of those uselss pieces of trivia I store in my brain: Florence Henderson (Mrs. Brady) is/was a spokesperson for Wesson Oil. I can only assume that is what "anonymous" is referring to. I have no idea about how their oils are processed.

    Cybele, I find your information and research very helpful. If I'm unsure, I can follow your lead and do more research myself. Luckily for us, Jared outgrew his allergy (??--intolerance? never really was fully diagnosed) to dairy and didn't develop any other allergies. Still, I wish this book had been around when I was scrambling to figure out what to eat while I nursed a baby who couldn't eat what I liked. I appreciate the fact that you've shared your findings with us. Not being a natural in the kitchen, I could never have come up with the recipes you published. It was a lot of plain chicken breasts for me!

  • At 6:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Cybele, just like people who spread computer viruses, there are people who surf blogs, write obviously inflammatory comments and try to spread discontent. It's a power thing to see how many angry posts they can generate. The disrespectful and argumentative nature of the above post seems to put up a red flag, doesn't it?

    In this case, I would be surprized if it isn't a jealous fan of your husband's.

    I have a friend that had to begin moderating comments due to this kind of behavior.

  • At 9:51 PM, Anonymous Emily said…

    Hi Cybele! I've been following your blog for a while and I decided to chime in - there's some fabulous information here :)

    I am not vegetarian or food allergic, but I watched you on Martha Stewart and have browsed your recipes and I'm very inspired! My mom is a low-fat vegetarian, and very big on health food. We would love to add your cookbook to our collection! Do any stores in the United States sell your book, or can it only be found online? I live in Washington, DC, and was hoping I could find it at stores such as Borders or Barnes and Noble (if not, I'll buy it online, but I thought I'd check first).

    Also, do you have any advice on foods that help counter obesity? My dad has a bit of a problem with this, and he's not too big on health food. I'm hoping I can fool him with some of your cooking. Do you recommend anything?


  • At 11:55 AM, Anonymous Jane said…

    Anonymous, not to be blunt, but you fail at recognizing when someone like Cybele is making an honest effort to find the facts. Also, for all your severity about the importance of this issue, you end your post with a juvenile "hint" about a brand of oil. Isn't that kind of a slap in the face to people who really need this information?

    So I'm wondering, which of the oil manufacturer's do you work for? Not in PR, I hope, because you're clearly not cut out for it. If you believe I'm jumping to unwarranted conclusions, well now you know what it feels like.

  • At 2:46 PM, Blogger Cybele Pascal said…

    thanks for sticking up for me :)

    But in fairness to Anonymous, I think she (or he) is really the parent of a peanut allergic child, and has lived through a very difficult experience, and has come to the point where she feels that the world is out to get her child, and has become slightly paranoid. None of this excuses her communication skills, but it does explain the extremely emotional content. Correct me if I'm wrong, Anonymous, but I don't think you work for Crisco.

    see my new post for updates.


  • At 11:44 AM, Anonymous elle said…

    I agree with Cybele and appreciate her info and diligence. Bottling companies take great care to flush the lines and it is correct in saying that the oils are processed before they arrive. CA. Rice Oil is the only oil that is produced at our facility-no cross contamination there.
    Many restuarants use peanut oil in their deep fryers-I wonder if there have been cases of reactions-or is the protein removed upon processing.
    PS to Nancy-I wouln't reccommend buying light olive oil-it is stripped of valuable nutrients.

  • At 7:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hi Cybele,

    I don't know 100% for sure but both Wild Oats and Whole Foods say their canola oil is not made on shared equip with nuts, peanuts or sesame. I didn't ask specifically about where the oil is bottled, I just assumed that was included but maybe it wasn't.

    I appreciate your effort here to give updated info.



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