Grocery Shopping with Allergies

By Heather Legg

I was in Trader Joe’s few days ago and noticed a product I had been looking for last week but couldn’t find. My husband and daughter were camping and he had asked for some trail mix without the nuts she’s allergic to. I know, easier said than done. I looked around but everything seemed to have cashews, her most allergic nuts. She’s okay with peanuts and almonds, but I couldn’t seem to come across that. But there, at Trader Joe’s was Rainbow Trail Mix – raisins, candy coated chocolates, peanuts and almonds! The perfect mix. That’s why I love TJ’s.

I know shopping for food is tough enough, throw food allergies in and it becomes even tougher. I am happy to see a large gluten free section at our neighborhood Publix, both in freezer and pantry items. Trader Joe’s has a good selection for us (and most products are without artificial ingredients and contrived sweeteners, another big plus).

Here is more of a rundown of what to find where:

Warehouse stores like Sam’s and Costco:
Usually these are not the best places for allergy needs. Where they will have a selection of soy milks, lots of the snacks have nuts and there is not a whole lot of gluten free items. Though are they cost effective if they can meet your allergy needs, they don’t always have what you’re looking for.

Mainstream Supermarkets like Kroger and Publix:
Getting better all of the time. Even if they don’t have what you’re looking for, they often will get it if you speak with a manager. They are getting more healthy options of foods, and that often means gluten free options and dairy alternatives. As I mentioned above, good allergy free options for a variety of foods are both in frozen foods and pantry aisles. Because they cater to the demands and demographics of their area, speak to the managers if they don’t have what you want, they’ll usually do their best to stock it.

Specialty Markets like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods:
Probably your best option with a good variety of wheat and dairy alternatives, as well as products made in allergy safe facilities. You can find things like rice pasta and soy milks and yogurts.

Health Food Stores and Online Markets:
Good options for things like wheat free breads and alternate flours as well as dairy free. Be careful though, in the health food stores as nuts are often a prominent products and are often sold in bulk. Online is a great choice if you can’t find it in your area. Many of these places only make allergy safe food so there is not worry of contamination.

I think it’s getting easier, though it is still a chore. Remember, it never hurts to ask if you’re looking for something in particular, and always read your ingredients, products are always changing.

1 Comment »


My son was recently diagnosed with a peanut allergy, which as you know is one of the potentially life-threatening food allergies to have. I want to alert readers to be very careful shopping at any place, especially if you are trying to avoid foods made on lines or in the same facility with peanuts or tree nuts. Trader Joe’s labeling, for example, is NOT consistent across all their cookies or cereals. Many will say “may contain peanuts” (which is helpful and basically means it’s processed on the same line), but other foods which are also processed on the same line or in the same facility do NOT provide that information (like Triple Berry O’s and Yogurt Stars).

Thankfully, they have a “contact us” section on their website, where you can input all your questions about particular products. But this is the key, no matter where you shop: to truly know what you’re eating and where it was made, it is imperative to call the manufacturer for EACH product you buy. Products are required to list if a product actually contains one of the top 8 allergens, but they are not required to mention if it MIGHT contain one of them due to being on the same equipment or in the same facility.

For now, the policy in our house = call the manufacturer directly for each and every product (and cook a WHOLE lot of homemade food).

September 17th, 2010 | 7:17 am
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