Whole Story

The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

Shopping With Food Allergies 101

By Rachael Gruver, August 21, 2012  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Rachael Gruver


Back-to-school time is upon us and that means that besides the mad dash for school supplies it’s also time to start thinking about what’ll go in those lunch boxes. If you’ve got a school-aged child, you’ve probably been affected by food allergies — whether your child has a food allergy or one of your child’s classmates does. As more schools become no-nut zones and there is an increased awareness about allergens of all kinds, it certainly becomes a challenge to navigate the grocery aisles.

I’m here to help. I’m going to give you a quick lesson on label allergy statements — what to look for and what they mean.  

Required Reading

First of all, let’s go over some legal-stuff. In the US, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act or FALCPA, requires disclosure when any of the “top 8” allergens are in the ingredients of a product. The label must state the allergen’s common name and not a scientific name. According to the FALCPA the top 8 allergens are: peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, dairy, fish, shellfish and eggs.  

It’s important to keep in mind that this law requires food manufacturers to identify only those allergens that are in the ingredients of the product, not allergens that might also be present in the manufacturing facility.

Volunteer Opportunities

Some manufacturers voluntarily disclose the allergens that are present in their facilities however others do not and they are not required by law to do so. If you don’t see a facility allergen statement on the label it doesn’t mean the facility is allergen free. To be sure the product is appropriate for your child (or you for that matter) it’s always a good idea to contact companies directly to check what allergens may be in their facility.

You’ll see voluntary statements on most of our 365 Everyday Value® and Whole Foods Market™ brand products. There are a couple of exceptions to this, such as when there’s not enough label space, so if you don’t see an allergen statement on the package please call or email me and the Customer Information team so we can double check the product for you.

Review Time

Here’s a quick rundown of the three statements you’ll see on most of our 365 Everyday Value® products:

  • CONTAINS [ALLERGEN(S)] – The allergen is present in the ingredients of the product.
  • PRODUCED IN A FACILITY THAT PROCESSES [ALLERGEN(S)] – The allergen is not in the ingredients, but it is present in the facility. Manufacturers use Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) to keep allergens separate from non-allergenic ingredients. GMPs include (but are not limited to): thoroughly cleaning machinery between processing runs and the use of scheduling to segregate ingredients. However, even with GMPs in place, if there is an allergen in the facility, there is always a small chance it could end up in the finished product.
  • MAY CONTAIN [ALLERGEN(S)] – The allergen is not in the ingredients but even with GMPs in place cross contamination is unavoidable at some point in the manufacturing process. We advise customers with an allergy to NOT consume products that “MAY CONTAIN” their allergen. You’ll see “MAY CONTAIN” statement on many chocolate products and dry baking mixes because there is an inherent risk of cross-contamination for those types of products. 

I know it’s not easy but I hope this little lesson helps ease the back-to-school burden and the worries about shopping with food allergies. If you need more information on food allergies, the FDA’s Food Allergy Fact Sheet for Consumers is really helpful as are the resources from Food Allergy Research & Education

If you have any questions about 365 Everyday Value® and Whole Foods Market™ products email or call us, my team is always happy to help!

How do you navigate the challenges of grocery shopping with food allergies? 

Category: Special Diets




Gina Percival says ...
Great information! Thank you for posting things so pertinent to our health and our children. We are so excited about Whole Foods Market coming to Columbia. WELCOME!!
08/22/2012 11:44:06 AM CDT
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@GINA - Thanks! We're excited to be coming to your neighborhood!
08/22/2012 11:55:16 AM CDT
DEE BANTA says ...
08/22/2012 1:03:35 PM CDT
Mary says ...
A few months ago, I picked up a milk carton in the store and shortly after broke out in a rash all over. Then had food allergy tests that showed I'm allergic to milk, egg whites, and soy. Since then, I have bought several foods going by the allergen list. Then when I break out, I see one of my allergens in the ingredient list, but not listed in the allergen list. So you HAVE to read the ingredient list thoroughly. Most companies do not disclose allergens in their allergen list. I keep contacting them, but find it ridiculous that they do not automatically have it in their allergen list. It makes it even harder to buy foods that I'm actually supposed to eat.
08/22/2012 4:44:14 PM CDT
M. A. Devlin says ...
I find Whole Foods peanut/tree nut policy to be prejudicial. I have found cocktail sauce, instant mashed potatoes, salad dressing and other products that are not expected to have tree nuts or peanuts with warnings. Also, there are written warnings displayed forl foods cooked and served at Whole foods. On the other hand there is an aisle devoted to Gluten Free foods. Any time I question anything, including non-allergy issues, the help is lacking. M.A.D.
08/22/2012 4:48:23 PM CDT
Pamela says ...
I am very impressed that your fresh meat counter contains the ingredients in the burgers. My husband has an onion allergy and it is easy to see on the labels what is in the burgers to know if he can eat them. I never knew so many pre-packaged items also contain fresh onions. I wish more companies made onion free products or even products that contained onion powder. I can't imagine having a child with a peanut allergy. That is so much worse.
08/22/2012 5:08:23 PM CDT
Leslie Betz says ...
I am curious about "natural flavors" or "natural flavoring" or "spices" -- are companies required to note that allergens are in these as well? I am not allergic, but highly intolerant and tend to just avoid things that say such vagueries and would like to know more about what is legally required so I can be better informed as to what I am eating. thanks for posting this, by the way.
08/22/2012 6:43:00 PM CDT
Emilys Landry says ...
My 9 years old son is allergic to eggs ,and I'm 41 and I just got diagnosed with many food allergy :wheat , soy, tomatoes , apples, kiwi , berries, shel fish and more , the whole foods is the only place I can grocery shop but it takes longer now that I have to read the labels more carefully it is hard because if u find something wheat free, this item contain soy or other thing I'm allergic to please help me !!!
08/22/2012 6:50:48 PM CDT
Linda Bohnen says ...
My husband gets stomach pain that lasts for days if he has anything derived from corn. Unfortunately, corn is not a "common allergen," so we have had to research ingredients that typically are made from corn (including vitamin C, maltodextrin, "natural flavors," citric acid, white vinegar, and xanthan gum, among many other substances). It is very helpful when manufacturers will cite the source of an ingredient, such as "modified food starch (from potato)" or "xanthan gum (from birch bark)." We have to pass up most prepared products available, unless the labeling is specific enough to give us confidence that no corn-derived products are lurking within. We have been told that many people are sensitive to corn, especially now that it is so ubiquitous.
08/22/2012 8:18:24 PM CDT
louise abrams says ...
do u carry lactaid free cottage cheese in your west bloomfield,mich store
08/22/2012 11:38:30 PM CDT
Sandra says ...
Thank you for this information. My son has milk, soy and gluten and eggwhite allergies and it is very difficult to buy food for him. If you have any other tip or info, please keep me on your email list. Thank you
08/23/2012 8:34:15 AM CDT
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@LOUISE - Our products vary by region and store locations so I would suggest reaching out to that store in particular to see if they carry the cottage cheese. You can find their contact information at http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/list.
08/23/2012 12:54:09 PM CDT
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@LESLIE - I was able to get a response from Rachael: "Great question! For products sold in the United States, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act requires vendors to identify any of the “top 8” allergens on the product label, so any allergen present in ingredients like natural flavors, spices, or colorings must be identified." Hope this helps!
08/23/2012 1:31:09 PM CDT
Jules says ...
BAKE MY DAY http://bakemyday-withjules.blogspot.com i am a gluten, grain, dairy, soy free and low glycemic baker and I also food coach at times. An item that I give to my clients is a list I made up from browsing every isle/section of Whole Foods(and other stores) and checking the labels on very common items such as spaghetti sauce, chips, dressings, etc. For example, cashews, which many people are very allergic to, is in several brands of tapenades. The goal of my list is to suggest the healthiest of said items and lowest in carbs. When having to start a special diet or just a great choice to feed one's body correctly takes time and patience. Pretty soon you will know which brands automatically and there is always new things coming on the market, so I, myself, run through each section every few months to update my list. Julies
08/23/2012 6:46:29 PM CDT
Maryann Vazquez says ...
I am dissappointed in the training of you staff regarding food allergies. I purchase at your Ridgedale, Edina and St. Louis Park stores. I have a wheat allergy and regularly purchase your grilled chicken or salmon. It seems logical to mean that if you are listing ingredients what is the point of doing so when you place it next to items that do not contain wheat. For example, fritters next to salmon. I was going to purchase a salmon filet asked the associate about it. The person proceeded to touch the wheat product and then touch all of the salmon. They seemed surprised when I choose to get nothing. I realize that you can not guarantee any cross contamination. However, a basic working knowledge of allergens is necessary. you are Whole Foods after all and your customer looks to your company to be knowledgable. Chipotle does a much better job of training their people and they are a fast food chain. Minnesota has many co-ops to shop from. I shop at Whole Foods but, if you guys don't get up to speed. I may go back to the co-ops on principle. I need an expert on allergies. I am a member of many gluten-free sites and will warn others if Whole Foods does not get there act together.
08/23/2012 8:46:46 PM CDT
Margaret says ...
I ordered some uncured ham yesterday from the deli and I was just trying to find out if it was nitrate free.I am not sure of the brand it was definitedly uncured ham and it was skinnier strips than the wellshire uncured ham.
08/24/2012 8:45:15 AM CDT
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@MARGARET - Thanks for your question. We prohibit synthetically-manufactured nitrates and nitrites according to our Quality Standards, although we do allow the naturally-occurring nitrates and nitrites found in celery juice or powder. We are allowing naturally-occurring nitrates and nitrites because some form of nitrates or nitrites is necessary in order to obtain the distinct flavor associated with cured meats like bacon and also to help with preservation of the product. It is recommended that you steer clear of cured meats, as you did, if you are worried about nitrates. Since I'm not sure of the particular brand, I would recommend reaching out to the store where you bought the item if you have additional questions and they can possibly look in to it further for you!
08/24/2012 9:40:08 AM CDT
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@MARYANN - Thanks for your comment. Whole Foods Market tries to help our shoppers with food allergies by voluntarily listing all major allergens contained in the prepared food we sell in various departments of our stores. However, in the case of our foods prepared on site, we can never make a 100 percent guarantee that those products have not come in contact with allergens in our kitchens because they were not prepared in a dedicated allergen free facility and there is always a potential for cross contamination, as you previously acknowledged. We encourage our shoppers with food allergies to read labels carefully and consider the severity of their own allergy when considering whether or not to purchase a prepared foods product. An option for the future could be to ask the team member to change their gloves if you would like as they are there to help!
08/24/2012 10:38:06 AM CDT
Jennifer says ...
Hi - I am going to go to whole foods tonight to see what they have for my Corn allergy. I spend hours reading the ingredient lists trying to buy food that I can eat safely. (I also have shellfish allergy so that's fairly easy to avoid.) I was amazed to learn just how many items have "hidden corn" in "all natural" food! And thank you for being one of the ONLY places I can get a cola with cane sugar instead of the Corn Syrup!
08/24/2012 11:42:08 AM CDT
Jules says ...
ALLERGENS IN FOODS Label reading is very important and gets easier over time. When one has severe reactions to say corn, which is in many forms, cooking for oneself is the best option. Eating simple - proteins and vegetables is the best way to go and slowly start label reading the products in the stores. Keep a list 'of the ingredients containing corn' with you and reference it when label reading. There are numerous items that are corn free. Our lives are so busy and I realize we can't cook fresh all the time and it's nice to be able to buy prepared items. I shop at Whole Foods all the time and I agree with some of the posts . . . so much of the prepared foods have too many allergens. It is good to speak up, with respect, and let your wants be known. I have noticed over the past few years, Whole Foods is getting better at trying to make more prepared foods without the common allergens. The problem is that so many people shop there to eat organic and healthier, but they aren't looking to buy allergen free foods and they want things to taste great. I voiced one time about their promotion of a Mother's Day Brunch Menu . . . each food item was way too high in carbs. Diabetes has been around for a very long time and it's only gotten worse. I respectfully told them that they just lost a huge market by having that type of menu. I, myself, have to cook for every holiday and never get a break - it would have been nice to go somewhere and have someone cook for me! :) Someday maybe. Also, keep in mind, that the reason our bodies have allergys is because our digestive system and other numerous health reasons, are out of balance. So working with an alternative doctor who is knowledgable in this area can help. It's as simple as this - if you eat something and it enters your bloodstream in an undigested form - you are going to have a negative response - not because of the food itself - it's more likely that it's because it's undigested. This is just something to think about.
08/27/2012 11:30:32 AM CDT
Marlehn Denman says ...
Thank you so much for the very enlightening information. Although testing has thankfully confirmed that I do not have Celiac Disease. I do strongly feel that I am gluten intolerant. Please keep the information coming. Whole Foods is a wonderful place with all kinds of possiblities for human beings as well as our four footed friends.
09/04/2012 4:59:02 PM CDT
Gracie Unterseher says ...
Here is the long list of allergens for my child - how can I find ingredients that do not contain these? Recipes and shopping lists would be great, but ingredients is even more helpful - also having a list of things that contain these allergens would be helpful. Grass Mix #6 Bermuda Grass Timothy Grass Tree Mix Marsh Elder Lamb's Quarter Pigweed Mix Ragweed Mix Red Cedar Alternaria Hormodendrum Pine Mix Oak Cottonwood Elm Dog Feather Mix Cockroach Histamine Cat Dust Mite Mix Candida Platain Alfalfa Birch Ash Cephalosporium Grass Smut Aspergillus Johnson Grain Smut Cattle Horses Mosquito Baker's Yeast Corn Potato Tomato Wheat Egg White Soy Milk Beef Pork Chicken Codfish Barley Orange Chocolate Peanut Garlic Black Pepper Rice Almond
11/03/2012 6:40:32 PM CDT
Christopher Goff says ...
My child also get affected by food allergies even I always take care about it. But last week, while searching some allergy free food products for his lunch box , I found a website http://completeorganics.net/Allergy+Free having a great list of allergy free products. I wants to share it with all of you so that your kids also stay healthy. :)
01/02/2013 12:12:01 AM CST
Paul Nichols says ...
Our son has dairy, egg, and nut allergies. We went to the Whole Foods Store in Springfield VA and asked about getting a birthday cake specifically without dairy, egg, and nuts. We were told that it was possible. During the birthday party we discovered that there were walnuts in the cake. It looked like it was caused from cross contamination because the walnuts were only on the bottom of the cake. I called to inform the bakery that the cake had walnuts. His answer was that they do not guarantee that the cakes would be nut free. Had we been told this while ordering the cake, we would not have ordered it. My guess is that when the gluten/dairy free cake arrived at the store, it was probably placed on a surface that had walnuts on it when they were applying the icing. We have been navigating the allergy grocery shopping for ten and a half years now. This was the first time in many years that we were told the product would be allergy free and it turned out to be false. A simple "We can't guarantee" is enough of a warning for us not to take a chance.
02/02/2013 6:37:53 PM CST
Granville Zimmerman says ...
Recently learned that I am allergic to soy...any suggestion on what is the quickest way to shop in your store for soy free foods. Not sure I want to read ever label.
06/12/2013 6:05:19 PM CDT