Monday, 20 April 2015

The 'May Contain' Thing... an attempt at explanation!

I don't know about your little ones, but 'Baby' is a sucker for fancy drinking cups - the wackier the better! she especially loves curly wurly straws - an absolute no-no for me! Despite my protestations, she is gradually gathering a small collection of them!

I can't stand the fact that I can't clean them out properly - all the way though - none of them can go through the dishwasher and just you try posting a bottle, or even a smaller brush down the straw. It just can't be done! The best you can do, is to flush with warm soapy water, rinse, and hope for the best. Thankfully (from my point of view) 'Baby' tends to drink water - fab! It's not sticky (unlike milk),  and it's easy to clean!

Where am I going with this? Well it's that thorny old issue of 'may contains' summed up for me recently by Chun-Han Chan's pithy comment on Twitter asking whether anyone had ever tried cleaning chocolate from a straw! (Chun-Han Leads on Food Allergy Policy and Risk Assessment at the Food Standards Agency and was tweeting on the subject of 'may contains', during one Allergy Hour.)

'Exactemente!' thought I! 

'Geronimo!! Precisely THAT!'

'May contains' is a frequent topic of discussion on allergy forums. What on earth does it mean? It may not always be specifically expressed as 'may contain,' it might be, 'not suitable for allergy sufferers' or something along similar lines! 

Newcomers to allergy life are quite rightly bewildered about what to do with this information and in a sense quite rightly so, for the following reasons:

1) May contain on an ingredients label is not a legally recognised term, within the EU. 

Because of this, manufacturers are not required to use it, even if there is a risk of cross-contamination. If the 'May contain' statement is there at all, it's because the company don't want to run the risk (in the event of a reaction following the consumption of their product) of being sued because they haven't disclosed enough information - the onus is on the sufferer themselves to make the right call. However, that doesn't really help bewildered allergic customers (except in the case of Unilever, who have stringent allergen testing - according to Dietitian Julia Marriott, if they say 'May contain', it should be taken seriously), because... 

2) May contain can mean various things!

It might be added because the product has been made in the same factory, or on the same equipment as the allergen, or because although the factory itself might not use the allergen, it cannot be sure about what their raw ingredients were exposed to, before they reached their premises. This is particularly true in the case of nuts - if you are only allergic to almonds, you might have to avoid other nuts as they may have been which may be processed alongside them. The same is also true of grain products like oats and wheat. These products produce dust particles than can rise into the air and remain there for some hours - and from there settle into other products made in the same space. Milk needs to be considered slightly differently. The problem with milk is that the proteins are quite sticky and can be hard to clean out of fiddly places - as I will try to demonstrate later.

3) May contain might not affect every allergic person!

Everyone's threshold* of tolerance of an allergen (like milk) is individual to them - what affects one, who might be quite sensitive to tiny traces, may not affect another who needs much more than a trace to spark a reaction. Moreover, thresholds can be affected by how processed that allergen has been (as processing/baking can cause allergens to be better tolerated by some - apparently they need to have been heated up to 180C for about 40 minutes) and also the individual's current state of health (reactions tend to be worse if you're ill). In addition, for some people it may take a slow build up of a trace amount to lead to a reaction...

4) The may contain risk may vary each time you eat the same product.

In terms of products containing milk, at certain stages of production, there is likely to be more risk than others. If you have just started a new batch of 'milk free' chocolate or yogurt, having just made some that does contain milk, even if the equipment has been cleaned, some traces may remain and become absorbed into the new mixture. You will never know at which stage of production the product is made, so you are kind of playing Russian Roulette.

BOO! You see the problem? Which is why, it is so difficult to frame in law - although I believe the powers that be are continuing to work on this. 

For us personally, we have tended to avoid the majority of 'May contain' products, because 'Baby' has been so sensitive in the past. For us, 'May' has often translated into 'Does', even when the companies involved don't think so, and tell us that their equipment has been thoroughly cleaned! 

Now, I don't have a problem with certain food preparation equipment like knives, spoons, plates etc. being bunged in a dishwasher and cleaned, it's the products made on more fiddly machinery that presents more difficulty for me. Think back to cleaning that straw containing chocolate - some machinery has parts that with the best will in the world just can't be reached, can't be scrubbed, will just be sluiced - hey presto... cross contamination risk!!

By way of illustration, take, for example, this home appliance - The Hub's beloved coffee machine. Et voila:

Exhibit 1

Looks smart, huh? BUT I have a complete love/hate relationship with this thing!

I love the fact that it makes gorgeous cups of coffee for The Hub and guests to drink... but I absolutely HATE cleaning the milk frothing compartment! This hatred is based on the fact that it has hard to reach places (like my little one's cups with straws) that cannot be placed in the dishwasher!!

Here's the lid - see the rubber seal? Milk can get stuck behind that, if you overload the frothing chamber and it's pretty tricky trying to clean it off, once it gets stuck there!

Exhibit 2

And here's the frothing device! Just you try cleaning every nook, cranny and coil on that!

Exhibit 3

Then there's the fact that you can't immerse the actual chamber in which the frothing takes place, in order to wash it thoroughly - it's an electrical appliance! 

Exhibit 4

The previous coffee machine also had its problems! See here:

Exhibit 5

See that milk frothing spout on the front (just like those you see in coffee bars) it was great for frothing milk, but impossible to clean, and is constructed very much like the aforementioned straw! I really thought I was cleaning it - I'd wipe the outside, and 'froth' into clean water (which, by the way, would then go 'milky'). I would then froth my dairy free milk and wonder why my, at that time, much younger 'Baby' (who was frequently being breastfed), was suffering reactions! At that stage, I hadn't yet twigged that milk proteins are quite sticky and can cling in all kinds of places!

Fortunately, for 'Baby', it didn't take me too long to make the connection! Hence, for her, or any other allergy sufferer with a severe milk allergy, frothy soya milk in normal cafes is quite out of the question - unless they keep one machine totally devoted to dairy free milk! 

Again, we  had to learn from bitter experience! Doh!

Now extrapolate what we've learned from appliances in the home up to machinery in factories... different size/shape, but same set of problems - fiddly bits that can be hard to reach. Disinfectant solutions are insufficient - they might kills germs, but not allergen proteins! That said, I discovered (through conversation via Twitter with Adrian Rodgers - @ad_rogers, on Twitter) there are, apparently, some solutions which can neutralize proteins, but even these are insufficient if something has just been sluiced through - apparently a good soak is what's really required - just like when you clean the teats on your little one's formula milk bottles. You're advised to sterilize teats, because milk proteins cling where you can't reach and where milk proteins cling, bacteria can form. Of course, sterilization will kill the bacteria, but not the protein!

So where does all this leave us?

Well there has been a fair amount of research into the subject, which may help guide allergic consumers as to what risks can reasonably be taken. The FSA surveyed a range of 'may contain' products and concluded that on the whole controls were good, but that gluten and milk cross-contamination was a lot harder to control than that of most other allergens. Staggeringly, milk was detectable in over 80% of the 'May contain' products they examined, although official advice, from the FSA (see here) is that it was not in sufficient quantity to cause a problem. (For the whole report, see here.)

However, that said, interestingly enough, research has been conducted which suggests loose products sold in bakeries as 'milk free' may not be as milk free as one might wish (see here). Apparently, although staff in these shops felt they were knowledgeable about their products, nearly half of the products tested contained detectable amounts of cow's milk.


One piece of research says this, another that. No wonder that even Healthcare Professionals (Allergy Consultants/Dietitians) do not always agree on this subject. At the end of the day, it all comes down to individual circumstances and personal risk assessment. The only way to be entirely sure is to avoid all 'May contains' and stick to products that are specifically labelled as 'dairy free'. Mind you, having said that, even THAT isn't quite as clear cut as one might suppose... you actually need to look for products that are not just labelled but guaranteed to be 'dairy free'... 

More on that, another time!

In the meantime, see below, for further posts, on this subject!

Further Reading:

Why Vegan is not always Dairy Free: Part II - Health Journo Alex Gazzola investigates

Is there a threshold dose for Cow's Milk Allergy? - Foodsmatter interview with Dr Janice Joneja

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Baking with 'Baby' 16 - Rocky Road

Don't know if you've noticed,  but there hasn't been a Baking with 'Baby' post in a while. It's not so easy now she's a five year old and spends all day in school. However, Easter hols and we've finally found some time to get baking - in our efforts to use up her Easter choccy stash... along with a few other Easter goodies too!

Like I said in a previous post about Easter eggs, there is a LOT more choice for the dairy free these days - so much so that 'Baby' had a HUGE pile of choccy come her way over Easter. It actually made me groan inwardly - all that choccy for a five year old! It didn't seem right... or that healthy to me!

Mind you, this recipe 'aint that healthy either! Ho hum! At least it uses up some choccy and those Easter marshmallows I foolishly bought (well really, who eats marshmallows, when there's all that chocolate around?)! Although, in the end, we didn't use 'Baby's' Easter choccy as it happens, because 'Baby' didn't take too kindly to the idea of melting her Kinnerton Easter bunny! And there was me with ideas of artistic melting bunny shots - think chocolatey Titanic bunny in a saucepan! 

Ah well!

However there was enough dairy free chocolate hiding in nooks and crannies in the kitchen - y'know Kinnerton lollies I'd saved for 'just in case' moments, like parties, but lost/forgot/hadn't got around to using before it 'bloomed'. It was just enough for the recipe we used, anyway! All 300g of it! 

I'd Googled a few recipes and each had their merits. I hadn't realised that there were so many variations you could have and that these were dependent on where you came from! I quite liked the idea of adding crushed meringue, but thought that might be a sugar hit too far and was quite taken with  the idea of including honeycomb, but didn't think 'Baby' would have the patience to make the Hokey Pokey first. As it turned out I was right - as soon as she realised what we were about she wanted to crack on with it ASAP!!

And who can blame her! Just feast your eyes on this:

What a way to use up those Easter left-overs!

The recipe I settled on was this recipe by Pig in the Kitchen. It was a nice easy peasy recipe - chuck it all in and stir and a great way to use up these bits and pieces from the cupboard: 

Great left-overs to have!
Pig - a legend in the allergy friendly baking world (if you haven't come across her yet, why not?) - seemed to have created the perfect Rocky Road brilliant balance, but I like to think our tweaks are worth a mention!

To begin with, we followed the recipe - we broke the choccy (mostly Kinnerton, which melts really nicely) into the saucepan. 

'It smells a bit minty,' remarked 'Baby' as she cheerfully added the choccy buttons from my ONLY Easter egg. 

'Oh no it isn't!' replied I.

She was right, I was wrong! I hadn't realised the choccy buttons on my dark chocolate Celtic Choices Easter egg were actually minty! The egg wasn't! Doh!

Had I but known, I wouldn't have added them - I'd have searched my cupboard a bit more, but hey, funnily enough that hint of mint added a certain Je n'cest quoi that took away the edge of any sicklyishness, that you can sometimes get from very rich and sticky sweet foods!

To the chocolate and Pure dairy free margarine which were melted together in the saucepan first, we added the golden syrup, broken-up biccies and our marshmallow chicks. 

I would have quite liked to add Bourbon biscuits a la Lucy's Friendly Foods recipe. 'Baby' loves the Waitrose Essential Bourbons, but they're not gluten free, so no good for me, so instead we used the Barkat biscuits (pictured above) that I had picked up from the Free From and Allergy Show the other year. I'd bought, stashed and forgotten them! They were six months past their 'Best Before' date, but I think they still taste okay... if a little bit of coffee! Strangely enough, this too seems to enhance the overall flavour!

The marshmallow chicks were a bit on the chunky side. We could have cut them up, but I thought it would be fun to see what they would turn out like without that. As it happens, the choccy disguised them so well, they may as well have just been chopped, but I think they added to the overall rockiness effect of our road, as you can see here:

It's certainly quite a bumpy road!

For a final using up of Easter treats from the cupboard, I added some sprinkles and these mini sugar coated marzipan Easter eggs, that we got from Waitrose. It was a toss up between these or the colourful jelly bean type ones, but 'Baby' finally told me the other week that she didn't like jelly beans. As it happens, it happens she doesn't like the marzipan ones either - too sugary, apparently!!

Oh well - more for me, then!

But as for the Rocky Road itself, well I think we can safely say that was a hit with 'Baby'!


Now all we need is some people to help us eat it all up... or I could save some for another day by freezing it (up to one month, apparently)! Yes, maybe I'll do that!

Related Posts: 

Seven super ways to use up your Easter choccy...

How much is too much? And can you have too much of a good thing? Is it possible to die by chocolate??

I'm just wondering... 'cos 'Baby' (thanks to the love and generosity of various family members), ended up with a HUGE pile of dairy free choccy over Easter. 

She had in total, six Easter eggs, two Easter bunnies and ten small choccy eggs from her Easter egg hunt!

I love chocolate, but that much choccy for a five year old, well I think it's a bit unhealthy!

A lot of choccy?
Well, anyway, inspired by my SIL (who uses up her kids excess chocolate in her baking), I thought that was quite enough for one little girl, so I started casting around for some ideas to 'help' her use it up. Please note that is you have stumbled across this post and are not dairy/gluten free don't go away - you can always un-dairy/gluten free these ideas! :)

1) There were these dairy, egg and gluten free Easter Nests, that we made the other year:

Easy and fun to make for little ones!

Of course they don't need to be Easter nests, they just as easily be chocolate crispy cakes, and if you use the right kind of chocolate, they can be soya and nut free too!

2) There were these dairy and gluten free Alien Cookies:

64 calories each!

This could be made soya free, with the right kind of chocolate. You will need to break up your Easter chocolate into little pieces, to create the chocolate chunks required for this one and then you'll be good to go. If you're looking for something fairly healthy, this may be the best way of using up your choccy stash - as it contains a secret ingredient, meaning each cookie is approximately just sixty four calories! 

3) There's always Silvana's Super Shortbread:

These can be blinged up with chocolate and sprinkles!

Okay, okay, they don't require any chocolate at all, but I've always thought these dairy and gluten free shortbread biscuits would be fab dipped in dairy free chocolate - they've just never lasted long enough for this to actually happen!

4) If you're looking for a little more sweetness, there's always Hokey Pokey

Shh! Don't tell your dentist!

Again, I've always thought this would be fab dipped in chooclate, but as with the shortbread, the only problem with this one is that it doesn't hang around for long! With only three ingredients, it's free of all kinds of things - except sugar!

5) Another 'healthier' option is Barbecued Bananas:

You don't necessarily NEED to crack open the BBQ for this one!

You may think it's a bit early in the year for a barbecue, but it can always be baked in the oven!

6) If you're feeling more indulgent, you may prefer to make this Yummy Chocolate Sauce:

Easy peasy!

This super sauce is easy to make and extremely versatile!

7) The one I've opted for, this year though, is gonna make great use of our Easter marshmallow collection too! Can you guess what it is yet? Here's a sneak preview of what's coming to a blog near you, very soon!


No, it's not healthy at all, I'm afraid, but if we share it out with family and friends, maybe it's not so bad!

Link to Rocky Road now added here!

Related Post:

The Great Big Dairy Free Easter Egg Hunt 2015

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Too little, too late Hotel Chocolat ruin Easter!

Am absolutely seething! 

It turns out Hotel Chocolat's 'milk-free milk chocolate' Easter chocolate was recalled on GOOD FRIDAY!! 

Not the best news to hear just before Easter, with days, even hours to go!

As far as I can make out, one milk allergic child has had an anaphylactic shock as a result of eating their 'milk-free milk' bunnies.

Food manufacturers are in breach of the law by labelling products 'milk free' when they are not.

Misleading labelling??

If you have bought some Hotel Chocolat 'milk free' chocolate and are in any doubt at all about how safe it may be for you or your little one, please DON'T consume. Return to the shop and you should be refunded.

I am glad to see the FSA are taking this matter seriously. See full details from the Food Standard's Agency here:

I hope this will stand as a warning to any other food manufacturers making 'dairy free' or 'milk free' claims. As I have been stating for some time now, 'may contain' products DO NOT count as dairy free, and ARE misleading to milk allergic customers, who cannot all be expected to be experts in the finer points of food allergen labelling, as regards legalities.


Many thanks to @MrsAitchBee (on Twitter) and others on Facebook for keeping me informed. Without their help I would be completely unaware of this terrible news either!!

Hotel Chocolat's response statement today is just NOT good enough - they should have made this distinction clear from the beginning, they sent out press releases and wrote a blog post about this new chocolate. NOWHERE (that I could find) until now, did they make this clear. 

Hotel Chocolat's statement can be found here:

Oh yes, and from now on, please boycott them, for leading their innocent customers on!

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Free From Frozen Eggs-piration for Easter

It all started with 'Baby's' request for a Frozen Easter egg! 

'Hmph! Well that's not gonna happen!' I thought!

She just doesn't get that!

'Is that one dairy free?' she asks, every time she spots a Frozen Easter egg in the supermarket aisle. 

Needless to say, I avoid taking her to the supermarket to avoid the inevitable questions along with the inevitable answer. 'No!' 

The thing is dairy free is just not mainstream is it? The Disney franchise is HUGE, and I'm guessing that Disney packaging comes too expensive for those who manufacture our niche market Free From Easter eggs.

Last year, Doc Mc Stuffins was the object of 'Baby's' affections, so the answer to the lack of Free From Doc Mc Stuffins Easter eggs was overcome by straight swapping. See how here.

I could have done the same this year, as Kinnerton have brought out similar Frozen sets this year.

Now she's older, I think this set may be a little on the small side!

But! This year the stakes are higher - the eggs she's been looking at are rather larger than what she had last year. AND I'm teaching her to read the word 'milk' in ingredients boxes - I was a bit worried she'd start reading 'milk chocolate' on the side of reused packaging and get confused!

Then I came across this Frozen mug (for £2.50) in Asda and had a bit of an idea!

Let it go?

As it happened to look about the right size for the Free From Easter egg I found in Asda the same day, my idea soon took shape!

Here's the egg!

1. Take Easter egg out of packaging and place it in said Frozen mug! (Other popular character mugs also available.)

Fits perfectly!

2. I placed the Easter egg and mug in a cellophane wrapper, bought online from Amazon and tied the top with curling ribbon. You can also buy cellophane treat wrappers in Poundland, but theirs are patterened. The cellophane wrapper was necessary, as the original plastic covering for the Easter egg had to go - to accommodate the mug as well.

This bag actually self-sealed - the curling ribbon was just ornamental!

3. The mug and Easter egg were then placed back into the Free From Easter egg box. It fitted just right!

Perfect fit!

Hmm! However, it still wasn't quite finished to my satisfaction - the outer packaging didn't really match - although the colour palate was pretty similar - with the sky blue of Elsa's dress and the magenta of Anna's cloak.

I toyed with the idea of taking apart the packaging and redesigning it on card, or creating a printable, using Frozen images, but the problem with the printable was the copyright.

Then I hit on the idea of decoupage!

Decoupage is basically cutting and pasting. I decided to augment the current packaging, rather than cover up the whole thing.

I gathered Frozen packaging, comics, wrapping paper, stickers and other scrap bits (there's a lot in our house, I like keeping things in case they come in useful) like this ring packaging, from making up 'Baby's' party bags a while back (Poundland):

We have loads of Frozen 'scraps' like this!

It fitted perfectly on the corner of the lid.

You can still read the 'Free From' bit!

The front was a bit more tricky - I went for one character each side of the window of the box. Anna was easier to stick -being cut from wrapping paper. She folded nicely round the corner of the box.

I made sure I added the 'Disney Frozen' label too - to authenticate it a bit!

Elsa was a bit harder being cut from card. Pritt stick is OK for the lighter wrapping paper, but not for the card, something like PVA is better for that - and you need to be patient for it to try!

Finally, TA-DA!!

Hey Presto!

A Frozen Free From Egg! 


Related Posts:

The Great Big Easter Egg Hunt 2015

Have yourself a Dairy Free Easter Egg Hunt