If your child has food allergies, you must adhere to a strict avoidance of allergens in his or her diet. As you know, accidental ingestion of certain foods can cause serious reactions, some of which may be fatal. Finding products on grocery shelves can be quite overwhelming – especially when you do not have time to squint to read the nutrition labels.
Some parents of food allergic children who follow restrictive diets find the kosher labeling system to be useful when determining whether or not a food is safe to eat.
What is Kosher?
Like people with food allergies, avoidance of certain foods is a big part of the lives of those who keep to Jewish law. The Jewish laws of Kashrut prohibit the consumption of specific foods including shellfish, pork and insects. Additionally, meat and dairy may never be eaten together, cooked together, manufactured together or served together. Foods that are labeled “Kosher” meet these Kashrut standards.
Read Kosher Labeling Carefully
For those allergic to certain foods, it is important to keep in mind that kosher regulations are different than the food regulations enforced by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The kosher label was created to help people of the Jewish faith shop more easily while sticking to a kosher diet – not for people with food allergies. According to kosher standards, if a product contains less than 1/60th of the non-kosher ingredient, it meets criteria for a kosher label. For a child with a food allergy, this amount may cause an adverse reaction. Even when shopping kosher, it is of utmost importance that you read every label carefully and contact manufacturers to determine whether a product contains event trace amounts of allergens.
According to the policies of Orthodox Union, the world’s largest kosher certification agency, individuals with a severe milk allergy should not rely entirely on kosher certification when making decisions to purchase foods. A notice is posted on their website regarding a recent “trace nuts and dairy disclaimer that is now printed on many products,” stating that the warning is there to notify consumers that although no nuts or dairy are in the product ingredients, there is a chance that there are parts per million of these allergens floating in the air, potentially making the product unsafe. Orthodox Union suggests this “contamination” would only affect people who are sensitive to the most trace amounts of the substance they are allergic to.
Kosher Labeling 101
If you choose to shop kosher food, here is a quick rundown of what kosher symbols mean so you can quickly identify potentially threatening ingredients, such as dairy. If you see a “D” on a label next to a “K” or “U” symbol, this typically indicates that milk ingredients are present. If a “DE” is displayed on a label, the product was produced on equipment on which dairy products also were also produced. Not everything is this black and white, however. Some kosher certifiers may use a “D” instead of a “DE” even if no dairy ingredients are included, since the product is produced on the same equipment as dairy-containing products. If you see within the kosher symbol a word like “Pareve,” “Parve” or “Parev, then the food is both meat- and dairy-free.
To better equip you to understand food allergies and kosher symbols, we will break it down further:
- An “OU” symbol on a product indicates that the product is kosher. According to the Orthodox Union, these products are not made on shared equipment with dairy products. This label does not guarantee that the product is free of eggs.
- An “OU-D” symbol on a product indicates that it contains a dairy ingredient or derivative or that it was made on shared equipment with dairy products. This is a key indicator to stay away for those who are dairy free.
- An “OU-F” symbolizes that the product contains fish ingredients.
- An “OU-M” or “OU-Glatt” symbol indicates that the product is kosher meat and is free of dairy.
These labels are helpful for individuals who want to avoid certain products in their diets – but not for everyone.
The bottom line is this: Kosher food labeling may save you time and seem to be a viable option for your food allergic child, but it is not the best solution for everyone. Even if a product is labeled kosher and appears to be free of a specific food allergen, proceed with caution. Contact the manufacturer to confirm whether the food is made on shared equipment, or do not give the food to your child at all to avoid potential serious reactions.